Friday, July 5, 2013
Review: Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
Source/Format: Library book!
Page Count: 323.
Goodreads & Amazon
A couple of friends and I have gotten together to read some books together. A couple of us in the group were in a YA writing class with the wonderful Stephanie Kuehnert. During her class we got to read a slew of awesome and influential Young Adult novels, and Shipbreaker was one that was recommended, but those of us in the group never got around to reading. We decided to give it a go!
Shipbreaker is the story of Nailer, a young boy who struggles to survive every day on the light crew, stripping copper wiring from shipwrecks in a dystopian Gulf Coast region. When Nailer isn't facing the treacherous conditions of his job that could be here today gone tomorrow, he is in a constant tango to avoid and satisfy his scary, alcoholic and drug addicted father. A silver-lining is in sight when a city-killer (hurricane) ravages the small coastal town, and shipwrecks a big, beautiful clipper. When he and his friend, Pima, jump on board, they find enough scavenge to keep them living comfortably for the rest of their lives. But amongst all of the jewels and silver and china, there is a rich girl who could be worth more than any of the loot if they can save her.
Shipbreaker started out very slow. In dystopian novels, I like a slow integration into the world instead of a hard dive right in that leaves me confused for the first couple of pages, which is what happened in this novel. It did pick up though, and one of the things Bacigalupi is most effective at doing in Shipbreaker is raising the stakes and tension through high action. There were several scenes where my heart was racing and I couldn't stop reading in fear of what would happen to Nailer on the next page. The action was well-described, though the stakes were almost always a life-or-death situation. I would've liked to see a little more at stake for Nailer besides his life every single time.
The thing that feel horribly flat for me in Shipbreaker was character development, which was disappointing. We are always told that Nailer's father, Richard, is a horribly scary man that is constantly 'sliding high' and someone you'd never want to cross. However, in scenes with Nailer, Richard flips back and forth between being menacing and evil, to being sweet and a great father to Nailer. I never completely feared Richard, and by the end of the novel, I could not understand why Nailer was so fearful of him, as we never see Richard being abusive towards him.
Another character I had issue with was Tool. In this dystopian world, there are human hybrids which are half-man/half-dog. These men are loyal to only one master, big, and vicious. At least we are told this, but then there is Tool. Bacigalupi didn't solidly describe in this novel why half-men even existed, and I felt they could have been replaced with some big, beefy and muscular men. Tool is also not loyal to a master, which also wasn't explained, and seemed to baffle me and every character in the novel that came across him. Tool also goes through a puzzling character transformation that I just couldn't figure out. I've heard that the half-men are explained a little better in the second book in the series, and I might read it just to find out what the deal with these creatures is!
As for Nailer, I kind of liked him. He is a hard-worker and values the idea of good, hard labor. He is also the softer side to the duo of him and Pima, and has a good conscious. However, I could never determine how old he was, and I don't think Bacigalupi knew either, because Nailer knew Pima's age, but not his own. He was actually asked how old he was and said he had no idea. Knowing his age would have helped his rationale a little, as well as his desire to be independent from his father.
Shipbreaker ultimately delivered in world-building. I really enjoyed seeing Bacigalupi's version of a far-future America. He also had the work and class systems worked out fairly well. He also did a good job at describing place, and I was particularly interested in how they viewed the world we live in now, and all of the buildings that are now lurking underwater. It was pretty cool to read about New Orleans, a place I'm fascinated with, in a different kind of light. Sadly, the characters, pacing, and predictable ending are what let me down.
Rating: 2 / 5