Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Atom, 2011. ISBN 9781907411106.
(Age 13+) Highly recommended. Science fiction. When a novel wins the Michael L. Printz Award 2011, Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book (2011) and is on the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (2011), you know you are in for a treat. I was thrilled when I received this book and found it so enthralling that I finished it in virtually one sitting. I am a fan of science fiction and dystopian novels and found that this was original, exciting and disturbing.
The novel is set in a near future, where oil has run out, the climate has changed and wind power is important. Nailer is a teen working in a small poverty-stricken community on America's Gulf Coast, breaking down discarded oil tankers for their parts. It is dangerous and onerous work stripping the ship of copper wiring particularly as one mistake can mean death. It is also dangerous to have an erratic and abusive father. After a devastating storm, Nailer and his friend Pima come across a beautiful clipper ship that has been beached and finds that there is one survivor, a wealthy girl, Nita. He is faced with an ethical dilemma. Should he kill her as Pima suggests and claim the ship as a lucky strike, thus ending their abject poverty, or should he rescue her in the hope that she will reward him with a better life?
What I liked most about this book was its description of what it was like to live with nothing but still cling to a hope of a better future. Nailer has barely learnt to read, his mother is dead, and his father physically abuses him but he still clings to a belief of what is right and wrong and hopes to get away from his terrible life. He also confronts the nature of loyalty and has to decide where his allegiances lie. Nita, the daughter of a wealthy corporation boss, is forced to come to terms with what it is like to have no food, money or shelter. This contrast of the haves and have nots will resonate with teens who can see the terrible differences between the poor and wealthy in the world today.
Another strength of the book was the depth of characterisation that Bacigalupi achieved. I became quite deeply involved with both Nailer and Nita and the secondary characters. I couldn't help cheering for Nailer as he attempted to learn how to read and to work on a wonderful clipper boat that used wind power to let it soar over the oceans.
A book not to be missed, this would make an ideal class set or literature circle novel as well as being an essential addition to the library shelves. I can't wait for the sequel and have purchased the author's adult novel, The wind-up girl, on the strength of his masterful writing and unique plot.
Pat Pledger