Rummanah Aasi

Nailer scavenges ships in order to stay alive. When he finds a rich, beached ship with a girl in the wreckage, he has to decide if he should strip the ship for its wealth or rescue the girl. Is the girl the ticket he needs to get out of poverty or will she drag him down further into his hellish world?

dirty and dangerous job is to crawl deep into the wrecks of the ancient oil tankers that line the beach, scavenging copper wire and turning it over to his crew boss. Quota must be met or you might not live for the next day. Nailer and his crew live in extreme poverty where food and clean drinking water is scarce. While the book is considered a dystopian and futuristic society, one can't help but feel that the dire situation mirrors what reality is for many, if not all, impoverish communities living in many countries today. The division between the haves and the have nots is staggering, but unfortunately not startling. While the world may not be different from today's economic times, what is startling to see is the lengths humans are willing to go to in order to survive. Like the resources that are limited in Nailer's world, trust, loyalty, and family is almost nonexistent, which is portrayed both by the book's characters as well as the distant, third person narrative.
   Nailer, our main character, is not our usual male hero that we have seen in YA literature. He is short, scrawny, and horribly scarred. In fact in order for Nailer to make a living and to survive, he must stunt his growth so he can fit into the small crevices of the ship to scavenge. Descriptively, he is very far from the typical tall, athletic, and attractive hero we generally read about. Unlike his looks, his living condition is not unusual. Like many children in severe poverty, he is forced to become an adult very quickly and make his own living. To make things worse, he is also living with his drug addict, alcoholic, and abusive father. While I understood Nailer's difficult situation and decisions, I couldn't connect with him beyond the superficial level. I had already met this type of character before in other books I've read.
  In fact I thought a lot of the secondary characters share very similar characteristics with Nailer. I felt if you could switch their names with his, you essentially get the same person. The only exception to this is a genetically engineered character named Tool who is composed of hyena, tiger, dog, and human. Half-men like Tool are created for the sole purpose of being utterly loyal to his patron/master and having a fierce temperament whenever he is called upon. Unfortunately, the side effect of this experiment is having a face that looks a bit canine. While he may not look physically attractive to us, Tool's face is supposed to inspire fear, especially since his breed are mostly employed as thugs and bodyguards. Tool is definitely menacing, but he is also unique. His rebellion against the natural order of half-men (thus the irony of his name) make him mysterious and that aura is heightened with the lack of a back story. Tool's past is never revealed, but he constantly reminds Nailer and those around him how unexpected his actions are. At first I was a bit frustrated with not knowing Tool's history, but then I realized if it was given then it would be not only inconsistent with his social rank but also might lessen my fascination of him.
 Ship Breaker is a gripping and fast paced story that I'm sure many reluctant readers will enjoy. I learned a lot about the job of being a ship breaker, which I did not know about until I read this book. I really appreciate Bacigalupi in using racially and culturally diverse characters in his novel. Both the female and male characters have equal presence and importance in the novel. I can definitely see boys and girls liking this book. Themes such as environmental responsibility and social/economic inequity make the book a good choice for a book discussion.

5 Responses
  1. I hear there's to be a sequel, and I keep wondering if we're going to get some more characterization there...

  2. Melissa Says:

    This does sound interesting. I'll have to check it out.

  3. Hallie: I've heard that it is a companion novel rather than a "sequel". While I liked this book, I'm not rushing for the next one but I'll eventually read it.

    Melissa: Let me know what you think!

  4. Jenny Says:

    Oh this one sounds dark and interesting! Too bad the characters are a bit interchangeable outside of Tool, but it seems like the story makes up for their relative superficiality. Thanks for this review Rummanah

  5. Jenny: "Ship Breaker" is interesting. I just had really high expectations from all the glowing reviews and felt disappointed. I would recommend it though!

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