Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown) has been on my shelf for a while, and I picked it up the other night on my way to bed, thinking that I'd skim the first dozen pages and decide whether it should be moved around in my most urgent to-read stack. I ended up staying awake far past my bedtime to inhale this one.
Nailer is a shipbreaker, someone who salvages wrecks along the drowned Gulf Coast of the United States, and one of the little ones who can crawl deep inside the ship's bones to recover scraps of useful metal. The poles have melted and the climate has changed; Category 6 hurricanes--"city killers"--have blown down several iterations of New Orleans. Pollution and trash mar the land. It seems that some resources are gone, leading to the need to recycle and to use fast-moving ships for international transport.
Nailer's crew leader, Pima, is pretty good. She is loyal to her crew. She keeps them safe. But another crew member doesn't care if Nailer dies as long as it benefits her. After a harrowing brush with death, Nailer understands that it's never good to abandon crew. When Nailer and Pima discover a small, expensive wrecked ship, they're pleased to have the chance to salvage enough to change their hardscrabble way of life, but less than pleased to find that shipping heiress Nita Chaudhury is aboard. Is Nita crew, or commodity? Should Nailer work with his father, Richard Lopez, to ransom Nita, or work against him to keep her safe?
I love a good adventure story, and I love a good dystopia; Ship Breaker has both. Here, the dystopic elements are not so unthinkable, making them much scarier and much more believable as science future. In addition, I enjoyed that questions of loyalty, class, and the human status were threaded in as part of the plot. The book ends satisfactorily, but I can imagine a sequel. (And though I liked that this book was self-contained, I'd have liked some more of it!)
I read this book as a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards, which means that I may have received a review copy from the publisher (or not; I own a lot of the books in this category). I read some books nominated for the YA fantasy and science fiction category in 2010 before the nomination period, and may have already reviewed them or declined to make a public review; these books might not have a Cybils post tag. As a first-round judge, I was tasked with helping create a shortlist of books. My personal reviews do not reflect any actions or discussions of the judging committee.