Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

I have long been a fan of dystopian literature written for adults. From Huxley’s Brave New World to Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, I love to read stories about our world gone wrong. In recent history, it has become more socially acceptable for adults to be caught reading kids/teen fiction. Since Suzanne Collins published the Hunger Games, there have been a slew of imitators churning out teen “coming of age/romance in the apocalypse” drivel. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Hunger Games, but there was a little too much angsty adolescent love for my taste. The Gale/Peeta dichotomy was an annoying distraction from the violent social commentary.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, while featuring a teen protagonist, is at its bones a story of survival while attempting to maintain a moral code in a brutal world. The story is set in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in a time when the world’s supply of oil has run dry. Scavengers have created an industry of stripping derelict oil tankers of any usable commodities when they wash up on shore. The main character, Nailer, spends as much time as he can away from a miserable home life. His amphetamine addicted father regularly beats him and spends their savings on booze and drugs. One day, Nailer finds a beached clipper ship in a nearby cove. It contains opulence like he has never seen which, by finder’s rights, is now his to claim. While exploring the ship, he also finds a teenage girl, half-dead trapped under the bed of the stateroom. He is faced with a choice: free her and try to get her to safety or let her die and be the wealthiest member of his community.

Bacigalupi creates a believable, brutal world full of desperate and dangerous characters. This book has just the right combination of sci-fi action and compelling characterization…and no sappy teen romance!

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