Book Cover Image:
Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015) http://www.ccpls.org.
Nailer lives on what used to be the Gulf Coast in this novel, which is set in a post-oil world, following an apocalyptic world disaster. Like the many poor living in this brutal society, Nailer scavenges old shipwrecks for copper wire, crawling through the innards of the grounded ships to find every bit of wire available. Hopefully, what Nailer finds and turns in to his crew boss will be enough for one day’s survival. Nailer’s only friends are Pima and her mom; for everyone else around them, survival is worth any price, even the price of their humanity. Nailer’s father is one of these characters, caught in a world of drugs and crime that threatens Nailer’s safety. Nailer’s hard luck seems to change when a hurricane grounds a wealthy sailing ship, and he begins to scavenge the luxury craft for whatever he can sell. When he finds a girl aboard the ship, however, Nailer has to make a difficult choice: sell the girl; keep her for ransom money; or treat her with dignity. In this world, the most insane choice is the last one.
APA Reference of Book:
It’s easy to see why this novel won a Printz award: from the beginning the detail and storytelling draw in the reader. One is with Nailer as he is trapped in a small hold in a sunken ship, or as he is avoiding his murderous father. Gradually, chapter by chapter, Bacigalupi builds a deeply complex world of rules and beliefs by which any remaining society survives. For simply the rich world-building and detailed descriptions of characters and places, the novel deserves an award. Throughout the action and detail of the story, however, Bacigalupi also weaves several important themes. For the reader, there are several levels on which the story may resonate: as a warning of what might come should our current dependence on oil remain unchecked; as an exploration of humanity’s survival instincts; and, especially, as a testimony of both the evil and the good of which humans are capable when faced with horrific circumstances. Nailer’s agony while trying to decide what to do with Nita reveals both sides of this humanity, and the reader is never entirely sure what course Nailer will take. In his final decision, he allows the good to triumph, and by this stage of the story, that decision feels like a triumph for the reader, as well.
“. . . Ship Breaker is breathless, non stop action, with barely room to breathe. Getting lost in ships, hurricanes, deadly infections, knife battles, and that’s just the first third! The world-building is done so seamlessly that it’s not noticed. Along the way, much is given to the reader to think about. This is set in the future, but all the big questions are about our today: the divide between the haves and have nots, the ecological impact of actions, the use of child labor, as well as questions about loyalty, choice, and fate.
Everything is stacked against Nailer, from his violent upbringing to his daily exposure to health risks to his scarred body. Still, he strives, to escape, to better himself, to be a better person. I love this boy. I want him to win. I want him to triumph. . . . ”
Do a book-pairing with this story and Ashfall by Mike Mullin: both describe the unrecognizable physical geography of a post-apocalyptic world, and both detail the evil and the good of which humanity is capable in the face of disaster. This book pairing could take the form of a bookmark or handout, using the phrase “Like this? Read this!” to link the two novels.