Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi (ages 12 - 16)

Tweens and teens adore exciting science-fiction that pulls them into a world that feels so real that they can imagine themselves right there. And yet this new world is just enough different from our own that you can look out on it, with all its disturbing reality, from the safety of your own home. It's a delicious juxtaposition, one that's both frightening and fascinating at the same time. Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi, is a gripping sci-fi that pulled me through from beginning to ending. I highly recommend it for fans of thrilling dystopian novels like The Hunger Games. Like The Hunger Games, Ship Breaker has several disturbing scenes of violence. This is not a book for every tween, but many will be enthralled by it.
Ship BreakerShip Breaker
by Paolo Bacigalupi
NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2010
preview on Google Books
audiobook narrated by Joshua Swanson
NY: Brilliance Audio, 2010
ages 12 - 16
available on Amazon and your local library
The action starts on Bright Sands Beach on the Gulf Coast, as Nailer - a scrappy 14 year old - earns his living as a ship breaker. In this post-global-warming society where fossil fuel has run out, Nailer works light crew, scavenging the parts of abandoned hulking ships that only those small and thin enough can get into. Nailer dreams of sailing an elegant clipper ship like those he sees out in the gulf, but that's a life only the swanks, those rich and privilege, can afford. In this post-apocalyptic society, there is a keen divide and stratification between social classes. Nailer's days are consumed with making quota, scrapping enough to eat, and avoiding his father's drug-fueled rage.

After a "city-killer" hurricane rips through Bright Sands Beach, Nailer and his best friend Pima find a washed up clipper ship filled with incredible scavenge - and a hurt girl. This girl is a swank, and Pima's sure that the best thing to do is cut her gold off and leave her to die. But Nailer sees a different choice, a choice to help this girl, this Lucky Girl, and this choice sets him on a wild adventure. As Nailer and Lucky Girl flee for their safety, trying to find her family and a different life for Nailer, Bacigalupi brings together fast-action plot interwoven with thought-provoking themes about luck, fate, choices and responsibility.

Ship Breaker has won great admiration and many awards. Bacigalupi has won this year’s Michael L. Printz Award for young adults, awarded by the American Library Association's Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Ship Breaker was also a National Book Award Finalist, and is now a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (winners will be announced May 21st). As Printz Award Committee Chair Erin Downey Howerton said,
“This taut, suspenseful novel is a relentless adventure story featuring nuanced characters in thought-provoking conflicts. Bacigalupi artfully intertwines themes of loyalty, family, friendship, trust and love."
I found the audiobook of Ship Breaker particularly compelling. Joshua Swanson did an excellent job creating distinct accents and personalities for each character. I found that these accents heightened the ethnic identities of each character, making me appreciate the multicultural cast of characters even more so than when I read the book. Usually when I listen to a gripping audiobook, I am compelled to find the print version because I can read much faster than listen. But I found that Ship Breaker came alive even more in audio format than in print. Listen to a sample from Brilliance Audio here.

An interesting question that I wonder about is what age group to recommend this to. School Library Journal recommends it for grades 7 and up, which I would agree with. Fans of The Hunger Games series will love this. I do think the raw nature, especially the violent character of Nailer's father, will disturb many tweens. But tweens who want riveting stories with life-or-death drama will eat this up.

The review copy came from Audible, the site I love for audiobooks. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

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