Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
ISBN: 9780316056212
Pages: 326 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2010.

He called up to her. “Hey, Sloth! I got me a way out. I’m coming for you crewgirl.”
The movement stopped.
“You hear me?” His voice echoed all around. “I’m getting out! And I’m coming for you.”
“Yeah?” Sloth responded. “You want me to go get Pima?” Mockery laced her voice. Nailer again wished he could reach up and yank her down into the oil. Instead, Nailer made his voice reasonable.
“If you go get Pima now, I’ll forget you were going to let me drown.”
A long pause.
Finally Sloth said, “It’s too late, right?” She went on. “I know you, Nailer. You’ll tell Pima no matter what, and then I’m off crew and someone else buys in.” Another pause, then she said, “It’s all Fates now. If you got a way out, I’ll see you on the outside. You get your revenge then.” (33)

Nailer works on the light crew, stripping copper from sunken and grounded rigs and ships in the future’s Gulf Coast region, where oil, gold, and any industrial scrap is even more precious than it is today. Everyone dreams of hitting a Lucky Strike, of hitting an unknown pocket of resources and secretly siphoning and selling it off so they can make their own way instead of crewing up. It’s a hard life, one that gets even more complicated after a big storm strands a rich girl on his tiny island. After his own recent brush with death, it’s impossible for Nailer to kill her and claim her riches. Instead, he finds himself on the run from everyone, including his own father, who are intent on using the girl as their ticket out of Bright Sands Beach. But the girl is hiding secrets of her own, and as she slowly and grudgingly reveals them to Nailer, Nailer’s prospects of getting rescued from his rash actions become bleaker.

I’ve been trying to get to this book for a while now, ever since my coworker finished and raved about it shortly after it was published. My first thought upon finishing is that this book has extraordinary world building. Located in what amounts to a distant future shanty town somewhere in the Gulf, readers are lead to believe that the area finally succumbed to the severe storms that slice through the cities. It’s similar to the movie Water World in that resources are so scarce they are scavenged. What sets it apart though is Nailer. The sheer brutality of this world is both astonishing and frightening, yet completely understandable as it’s every man for himself, and the descriptions bring everything into focus.

Bacigalupi sets up the story so that we have a clear idea of how conflicted Nailer is when he finds his stranded mystery girl. Any other time, he would have had no qualms killing her and taking the Lucky Strike for himself and his good friend Pima, getting them out of the slums. But he is also desperate to distance himself from his father, and he realizes that killing the girl would be the same thing that would have happened to him if he hadn’t been so lucky; killing the girl would be the same thing his father would do, no question, and he hates the idea of becoming his father.

Not knowing who to trust is a common theme running through everyone’s story. Nailer and the girl must trust each other as they flee for their lives. The girl is completely out of her element in this foreign environment and has no one else to rely on. Nailer must trust that she is telling the truth about who she really is, even though time and again that identity changes and her honesty is called into question. Neither one though can turn back once they start, because they know that there’s a better chance of surviving — of keeping each other alive — if they stay together.

I’m not the only one who sees this book as an examination of the humanity, trust and courage. It received a boat load of recognition, including being named a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, winning the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book nominated for the 2010 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy and included on the 2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list put together by the Young Adult Library Services Association.

I read this as an e-book, where they provided a sample of the companion novel Drowned Cities which features one of the secondary characters who I’d definitely be interested in learning more about, as he seems to be an anomaly all his own. A good industrial strength read (pardon the pun).