The New York Times Best Seller list used to be a good place to get book recommendations. Though now books like Fifty Shades of Gray make that list so it isn’t exactly reliable anymore. But the Michael L. Printz Award, or just Printz award, is still a guarantee for a good read, so if you’re ever fishing for book recommendations, simply scroll through the list of winners. When you hit the year 2011, you’ll see the book Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.
Ship Breaker is a young adult novel, and while it is dystopian, it is very different than the current popular strain of young adult dystopian novels. There is no love triangle. There is hardly a love duo. The dystopian setting has a very different feeling than Marie Lu’s series, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, or Veronica Roth’s Divergent. The story takes place in a futuristic America, around the Gulf of Mexico to be specific. Like many dystopian novels, society in Ship Breaker is divided sharply into the haves and the have-nots. The have nots are dirt poor and mostly work as scavengers, tearing apart old ships for scrap metal.
One of these scavengers is a fifteen-year-old boy named Nailer. I know nowadays male protagonists in dystopian young adult fiction, or any young adult fiction really, is rare, so this alone is a breath of fresh air. Nailer lives the hard live of a ship breaker, working a dangerous job and living with an abusive father. Once in a while he dreams about making it out, but the only way to do that is to get lucky and find a preserved store of oil, and the chances of that happening is one in a million. But then Nailer gets his break. He finds a ship washed up on the shore after the shore. At first, the ship seems to be the lucky find, but a survivor in the wreckage of the ship’s cabin proves to be even more valuable.
Nita is one of the haves. She belongs to a rich and powerful business family, and Nailer soon realizes that she is worth more alive than dead. She is his ticket of his life of poverty and away from his abusive father. But returning Nita to her family becomes more and more difficult as Nailer’s father and enemies within Nita’s own family come after the pair.
Bacigalupi’s world is well built and different than other dystopian worlds you may have read about. And even more differently, Ship Breaker is a “boy” book. Not that girls won’t like it—after all, Emily and I both liked it—but being a “boy” book shifts the focus of the story. Bacigalupi doesn’t waste time with a love triangle or girlish day dreaming about love—no offense Katniss or Bella. Bacigalupi spends his time world building, presenting a gritty depiction of poverty and the depravity of human nature. He also explores themes like trust, loyalty, prejudice, the social gap, and many other nonromantic ideas. The focus of the book is on action, not relationships, though it doesn’t sacrifice character or relational development.
For readers who enjoy dystopian novels but are looking for something a little different than the dystopian books that are popular now, Ship Breaker is a good read. And since it won the Printz award, you can be certain that the writing, characters, and themes are all worth your time.