Ship Breaker: A (rapid fire) Review

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)

This book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

It was also the winner of the 2011 Printz Award (given by the American Library Association to a book with high literary merit written for teens).

This book has already gotten tons of attention which is why I don’t feel bad doing a rapid fire review of it instead of a full, traditional one. It was a lot of fun to read it during the Printz announcements and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected (I thought I was burnt out on dystopian novels but this one was really interesting).

I liked the writing and the characters and I can see why it caught the Printz committee’s attention. I liked that the characters were diverse with people of all colors and cultures and even half men like Tool. I liked the writing style and the pacing. I thought the premise was interesting and there was a lot of action. I like the malleability of names, how Nailer was also Lucky Boy. I also thought the pervasive nature of luck in Nailer’s life was interesting. The family dynamics and the idea that family is what you make of it not just blood was also great.

That said, I also had some problems with the book:

I noticed there were a lot of repeated phrases like every time Nailer got hurt, something seemed to be blossoming with pain or a bright blossom of pain, etc. Which is fine–it’s a good phrase. But it started to appear A LOT.

I also thought the book got a little philosophical, not necessarily in a bad way but kind of in a “this looks like someone trying really hard to drive home a point” kind of way.

I thought the author’s world building was pretty well done but I also had a lot of unanswered questions. On the one hand I respect that the story wanted to throw readers right into the action. On the other hand there really were a lot of questions and some of them would have been easy to answer.

For  instance SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER:

(SPOILER!)When Nailer’s back gets infected Pima says Nailer needs to take pills three times a day for ten more days. But then he and Lucky Girl run away. Did Nailer take the pills with him? Did he take them on the train? If he didn’t do either of those things did the infection come back? It was a big part of the story and I would have liked to not have it dangling. Because, frankly, in real life–especially in Nailer’s lousy world–he should have died without the meds. It was weird to have that be such an obvious fact. Only to be left hanging.
(END SPOILER)

I also wanted to know more about the dynamics of Bright Sands Beach. There’s light crew and heavy crew. But are those the only options? If you aren’t crewed up are you as bad off as Sloth? What happens if you get too big for light crew but too small for heavy crew? It seemed weird that there was nothing else mentioned. Couldn’t some of them have worked at Chen’s noodle shop or something?

I also wished there was a little more about the crew tats. Like do you just keep them if you get too big for light crew (as opposed to getting thrown off)? Are there other tattoos for heavy crew?

Basically I enjoyed the book and I thought it was really interesting and deserving of all of its praise. But I was frustrated that there were not more details and background and, for me, can’t say it’s a book I absolutely loved (but I did like it).