Ship Breaker hooked me in the first paragraph. I remained horrifically spellbound throughout. Now that I am finished, it still won’t let me go.
It is dark, depressing, and desperate, forewarning an all too plausible future. Even more distressing, it is one that exists, even now, in places on our planet.
The futuristic world of the novel is set in the Gulf of Mexico, a landscape reconfigured by the ravages of global warming. It is a world run by feuding corporate clans, a world where the divide between rich and poor has become catastrophic. The 99% live in abject poverty across the globe. Oil tankers have been replaced with more efficient, environmentally friendly hydrogen powered clipper ships. It is a world where human beings have been modified using the genetics of other animals to create a breed of half men.
Nailer, the main character, lives with his abusive father, Richard Lopez, in a shack on the beach. Nailer and his crew work to salvage copper wires from the abandoned ships. They work in dirty, dangerous conditions for little pay. If their existence is bleak, their future is bleaker still.
Nailer survives a near fatal accident and betrayal by a fellow crew member. Then a ‘city killer storm’ hits the community. In its wake Nailer and his friend, Pima, discover their ‘lucky strike’ - the wreck of a clipper ship. In the process of removing enough wealth to keep them rich forever, they come upon a survivor, Nita. Nita is ‘swank’ - a member of the wealthy clan that controls their lives. Caught up in a power struggle between rival clans, her ship was chased into the ‘city killer storm’ to escape her father’s enemies. Pima and Nailer rescue her, but before the three young people manage to get themselves to safety, are discovered by a crew of scavengers led by Nailer’s evil, drug-addled father.
Pima’s mother, Sadna, and her crew, rescue them. In an attempt to escape from Richard Lopez and enemies of Nita's father; Nailer, Nita and the half man, Tool, jump a moving train and set out to ‘Orleans’ in search of a ship still loyal to Nita’s shipping clan.
Don’t fret, there is much more before the story comes to a realistic and satisfying conclusion.
Ship Breaker is written from a guy’s perspective, but it won’t deter girls from complete engagement. It is a fabulous adventure full of ample action and suspense. But it is so much more. It is a book that creates situations where the reader is forced to contemplate deeper existential dilemmas. It engages us in the struggle to do what is morally right in spite of great temptation. It examines what constitutes family and loyalty. It scrutinizes organ donation and environmental degradation. It seduces us into exploring what it means to be human.
Ultimately, it may well be a terrifying harbinger of what is on the way for much of humanity.
Fans of Little Brother, The Hunger Games and The Maze will surely enjoy it. Because of the violence, I wouldn’t recommend it for students younger than 11 or 12.
I'm ready for The Drowned Cities, the sequel to this one.