Spring Break. Summer Break. Whatever qualifies as a break from the routine, whatever takes the family to a beach house or a mountain cabin, or the backyard hammock, parents are always on the look-out for a book or an author that will grab the interest of reluctant readers. The book reviewed here might do that. So might the author. He's considered by many to be a “rising star” among science fiction writers. This, his first novel for young adults, took top awards and honors this past year.
SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi, Little, Brown, and Co., 2010
This is not a book one puts down willingly. Every page has someone dangling into the uncertainty of another encounter with a villain or a dangerous turn of events.
No gender biases. In this dystopian world, boys and girls pull their own weight and are fairly equally matched.
Instead of werewolves and vampires, our characters interact with a mixed breed of humanity, tigers, and dogs, called half-men. This is a sinister warrior creature, bred to serve. Most are fierce, almost invincible, and nearly always loyal to the death. That’s right, “almost” and “nearly.” Some half-men have ideas of their own, skewing the action and increasing the terror.
The setting is the Gulf Coast region. Teenaged Nailer works on a crew of “ship breakers,” breaking down grounded oil tankers for parts. After a city killer storm (called hurricanes in earlier years when they weren’t as frequent), he finds a beached clipper ship. It’s elegant, expensive, and could make a huge difference in his day to day struggle to stay alive. He also discovers a survivor aboard, a wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. Maybe. Does he opt for riches or rescue?
Class warfare, environmental hazards, religious conflicts, all rumble beneath the surface of a boy escaping an abusive father and a girl trying not to place her powerful, but vulnerable father (he loves his daughter), in an untenable position. Deep discussions may or may not develop, but the drive of a first reading is to find out how it ends and if the unlikely duo will make it to the last page alive. After closing the book and catching up on breathing, readers will hope for a sequel.
Ship Breaker was a National Book Award finalist and won the Prinz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature given by the American Library Association. It just might win the interest of your reluctant reader, too.