Ship Breaker

ImageThe 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.

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Paolo Bacigalupi

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.

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Another (Enjoyable) Dystopian Book

Dystopian setting. Badass fighting heroine. Love triangle. I just described the entire Young Adult Fiction shelf at the library/bookstore, didn’t I? Okay, so there may be nothing incredibly original about Marie Lu’s popular trilogy—Legend, Prodigy, and Champion—but that doesn’t mean that Legend, and it’s subsequent books, isn’t enjoyable.

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Marie Lu

Legend takes place in a dystopian future where the United States is split into the Republic (i.e. the West Coast basically) and the Colonies (the East Coast). The Republic is ruled by an Elector and a Senate, with the Elector holding most of the power through a powerful military. Children, when they come of age, undergo a series of tests known as “trials”. These trials allegedly determine their aptitude and therefore their social status. For some people, like the female protagonist June, this isn’t a bad thing. June comes from a wealthy family who lives in a sanitary and safe district. She aced her trials, which landed her a premium spot at one of the Republic’s universities, and she has a promising career ahead of her.

Day, the male protagonist of the story, is the opposite of June. He comes from a family in a poor district, where disease and crime abound. He failed his trials, and narrowly escaped being killed because of it. Now he’s a criminal, a rather famous one, trying to support his mother and two other brothers. Though his background is very different from June, he soon finds that they have more in common than they realize when the death of June’s brother and only living family member throws them together. The Republic tasks June, it’s star prodigy, with tracking down Day, the Republic’s most infamous criminal, whom June believes is responsible for her brother’s death. But once June tracks down Day and spends some time away from her sheltered view of her country, she starts to realize that the Republic may not be all that it seems. Now in doubt of whom she can trust, June sets out to find the truth about her government, her brother’s death, and the criminal she’s becoming increasingly fond of.

ImageDystopian novels are all the range in the Young Adult genre, and not without reason. Dystopian settings provide a unique canvas for examining questions about governments, societies, and morality. Lu’s interpretation of a possible future for America is very interesting, with the East and West of the country divided, society divided into poor and rich sections, much like in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Like many Dystopian novels, the government is portrayed as untrustworthy, an oppressive “Big Brother” entity. But even though this context is not an original setting for a story, Lu’s characters thrive in the story she’s given them. June and Day are typical YA characters, but their story is enjoyable. And, when the reader gets to the end of Prodigy and into Champion, Marie Lu will throw her readers an unexpected curveball in dystopian fiction—the characters are going to support the government instead of overthrow it!

Reform, not revolution. That is the most original aspect of Marie Lu’s trilogy. I recently finished the third and final book of the trilogy, and I quite enjoyed it. Lu’s characters are well-rounded and very human. They make mistakes, they fight for the people they love, etc. Lu asks interesting questions about how to structure societies, choosing the lesser of two evils, the benefits of reform over revolution. And the story is engaging. This isn’t a groundbreaking book series, but it is very enjoyable, especially for readers who are enjoying the current popularity of dystopian fiction.

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The U.S. Open

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Andy Murray winning the U.S. Open in 2012

Today is the first day of play in the U.S. Open. Tennis fans from New York and across the country will crowd into Arthur Ashe stadium to watch the great tennis players of our time take the court for the opening rounds of America’s greatest tennis tournament. It will prove to be an interesting and exciting two weeks. Andy Murray, who just won Wimbledon, returns to the U.S. Open as the 3rd seed to defend his 2012 title. Novak Djokovic comes in as the top seeded player and one of the finest hard court players of all time. Rafael Nadal is seeded 2nd with his knees finally healthy and a good streak going on hard courts. Then of course there is Roger Federer, seeded 7th, his lowest seeding since 2002 but always a fan favorite. On the women’s side, defending champion and current no. 1 ranked Serena Williams received the top seed, followed by her rival Victoria Azaranka. Azaranka has proved herself to be a formidable opponent for Williams, winning 2 of their 3 meeting this year. It will be a battle should they meet in the final. Maria Sharapova snagged the 3rd seeding.

With two weeks of great players and excellent tennis ahead, I’m reminded of why I love the sport so much. Tennis is competitive, classy, has a rich history full of incredible people, and it is so much fun to play. As the 2013 U.S. Open begins, I can’t help but think about all the things that make tennis such an incredible sport. Here are some of them, in no particular order:

1. The players.

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Maria Sharapova

On the whole, tennis players are among the most respected athletes in the world. They’re an incomparable mixture of class and a competitive spirit. I think of players like Juan Del Potro, regarded as the most polite athlete in any sport. Then there are players like Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova who both demonstrate an intense work ethic but also demonstrate a high level of class.

2. The rivalries.

Tennis boasts some of the most historic and competitive rivalries in sports history, from Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. These rivalries are the perfect embodiment of the nature of both the sport and its athletes, as rival players are intensely competitive with one another but carry a great deal of respect towards each other. It also makes for some awesome tennis, which we should see if Williams plays Azaranka in the women’s final.

3. The Athleticism

Because it’s regarded as a gentlemen’s sport, tennis is often dismissed as a ‘hobby’ or a less athletic sport. This could not be further from the case. Tennis players are some of the fittest athletes in the world. Matches can last up to four hours of play—that’s four hours, not including breaks, of sprinting, lunging, and diving. The game requires strength, agility, and endurance. This isn’t golf, people. You actually sweat playing tennis.

4. Earning it.

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Roger Federer

Tennis is one of the few major sports that does not operate under athlete/organization contracts. Unlike baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey athletes, tennis players earn money by winning tournaments. Contracts can hitch an athlete to one organization anywhere from one to ten years, even if athlete injures himself, his talent diminishes due to aging, or he is suspended. Tennis players, on the other hand, earn their salary based on their performance.

5. The Women.

I’ve mentioned mostly male tennis players, but I would be remiss to ignore the women of tennis. Not only are there great female tennis players—Maria Sharapova, Chris Evert, and Billie Jean King come to mind—but tennis is one of the few sports where women receive the same recognition as their male counterparts as well as the same pay grade. It was not always like this. As in every sport, women struggled to be taken seriously as athletes and earn the same rights as men. The ESPN film Venus VS. highlights Venus Williams’ role in bringing equality in tournament winnings for women. Billie Jean King also played an important role in equalizing tennis, particularly in her exhibition match against Bobby Riggs where she beat him in three straight sets.

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Serena (left) and Venus (right) Williams

There are many more reasons to love tennis, but I can’t go into them now. It is a sport with a rich history and respected players. It is fun to watch and to play. These next two weeks will showcase to the world an incredible level of athleticism, sportsmanship, and excitement. And on September 7th and 8th, new champions will be crowned.