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Lemme Break It Down For You

Meghan reviews Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, in which scavenging along an oil-ravaged Gulf Coast is one boy's only means of survival.

Lemme Break It Down For You

BOOK REPORT for Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker Book 1) by Paolo Bacigalupi

Cover Story: Strut Yr Stuff
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: Industry Insider
Bonus Factors: Environmentalism, Workers' Rights, Sailing
Relationship Status: Crew

Cover Story: Strut Yr Stuff

This cover's not one I'd be ashamed of in public (although, to be honest, I'm not often shamed by my reading choices. Screw you, literati snobs!).

The Deal:

Nailer's a ship breaker -- he and his crew of beach rats scavenge wiring and metal fittings from broken-down oil age tankers rusting away on the Gulf Coast of North America, like a futuristic band of Victorian river rats. After a city killer storm blows in and ravages Nailer's shantytown and the salvage business, he and his friend and crewmember Pima find a wrecked high-end clipper ship -- and in the process of looting it, they find the wealthy daughter of a shipping clan who's on the run. Nailer's faced over and over again with choosing sides -- save the girl or turn her over for the reward? -- while battling his abusive meth-head father.

BFF Charm: Yay

I'd give Nailer my bff charm, although he might look down on me for being a swank, since I'm totes grossed out by the state of the Gulf Coast waters NOW, and I know I wouldn't want to dive in a couple of centuries from now when they've been totally destroyed by industry. Also, I don't know if I could ever skin an eel. Eww. But I'd do my best to help Nailer, and he's so tough and sweet at the same time that he'd have my back even while gritting his teeth at my lameness in the face of adversity (and rats). I liked watching him struggle to do the right thing, and learn that family's not always about blood.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Sure, Nailer thinks Nita (aka lucky girl) is the prettiest thing he's ever seen (hell, she's clean!), and there's a little bit of tension between the two as they work out their class differences. And life-or-death on-the-run situations tend to stoke the hormonal fires, but Todd and Viola these two aren't, as much as I wanted them to be.

Talky Talk: Industry Insider

While this isn't a technogeek sci fi, full of crazy machines and gadgetgasms, it's still rough and rusty. The ships -- both the 21st-century tankers and the futuristic clipper ships -- are vividly described, and there are lots of times I could smell petroleum fumes and taste rust as I was reading. There's more narration than dialogue, but I think that helps readers understand Nailer's conflicts and moves the action along pretty quickly. Who has time to sit and trade bon mots when a filicidal maniac is after you?

Bonus Factor: Environmentalism

Like The House of the Scorpion, Ship Breaker pulls a Margaret Atwood and takes certain modern problems and explores what the future will look like if we don't get a handle on them. The whole world's geography is totally fucked by climate change -- city killers are category 6 and 7 hurricanes that pummel the coasts. New Orleans (and New Orleans II) is underwater, just one of the continent's many Drowned Cities. The polar ice caps have melted, turning Inuit and Arctic Russians into pirates, since their way of life is vanished. Petroleum is still needed but cannot be easily obtained, and beaches are nothing but long stretches of tar holding back oily seas. So recycle that alumninum can, please, and use a reusable water bottle!

Bonus Factor: Workers' Rights

Nailer and his buddies are the lowest of the low, the mudlarks of the future, exploited by companies who claim green* status because they source recycled materials for their manufactures. Of course, they're paid little, can't read and are booted off work crews to beg, prostitute or sell their organs when they're too big to slither through cramped ducts and strip copper wire. If they survive into adulthood, they either become exploitative (hey, every dog's got find another dog to eat) or they end up burned-out drug addicts.

*NOTHING** annoys me more than the branding of environmentalism. HELLO, just because the package your product comes in is colored green does NOT mean it's a low-impact product. Or just because Mr. Big Box Retailer sells recycled toilet paper doesn't mean he doesn't also treat his workers like less than shit.

**Nothing, except maybe Nicholas Sparks. But he's neither here nor there re: this book.

Bonus Factor: Sailing

I love sailing! Granted, I don't know much about it, but I can manage to drift around a small lake on a 16-ft boat most of the time. And yes, the time I planned to crew for my dad in a regatta, we got dunked TWICE, but hey! It was really windy! This book has awesome sailboats that use CANNONS to shoot parasails high up into the atmosphere to catch the wicked winds so they can go 50 knots! That's really fast.

Casting Call:

Jaden Smith as Nailer

I can't help it, I love Jaden Smith. And although he has WILL SMITH for his dad, and therefore NOT a crazed drug addict grifter conman murderer (but he could play one on TV), he could still rock the shizz out of Nailer's vulnerable side. I mean, Nailer saves said crazed drug addict grifter conman murderer from the storm when it would have been SO much easier to let him get hurricaned. That's totes something Jaden Smith would do. And I know he's only 12 right now, and Nailer's 14 or 15, but Hollywood can wait a little bit, right?

Relationship Status: Crew

This book and I swore a blood oath. That means I got its back, and it's got mine. We might not always get along, and any romantic relationship would totally wreck the balance of our whole gang, but we're tight. I'd never sell it out. It's a great book, sturdy and reliable. It has its OH SHIZZ! moments, and some just-when-you-think-you're-safe heartpounders, but I knew I could trust it through and through not to toy with me (I'm looking at YOU, Patrick Ness). So while I'll always be loyal, I don't see us being romantical. But don't underestimate crew.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.