Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2011 Printz Award Winner)

Apocalyptic fiction is a genre that involves a setting in which the world has been brought to the brink of total devastation by a global catastrophe. A post-apocalyptic fiction novel involves such a world later struggling to rebuild itself with each individual clawing onto anything to survive. This is the type of world we find ourselves in the book, Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Both adults and children along the American Gulf Coast are left to scavenge off the remnants of a once prosperous industrialized nation. Nailer is one such child, fending for himself even though he has a father. He works on a scavenging crew that gets paid for pulling copper inside of stranded ships along the coast of what once was Louisiana. Nailer is valuable to his crew because of his size. He’s able to fit inside the ductwork that often contains copper wire. However, there’s a problem he can’t ignore forever. He’s growing, and soon won’t be able to fit inside the ductwork. Without a job how will he survive?

One day, he and a friend find a different type of boat stranded nearby. It’s loaded with fine china, silver and putrefied food. There’s enough loot to hit a Lucky Strike. A Lucky Strike would mean a free ride for the rest of his life, without worry, never hungry again. As they deliberate what to take out first before anyone else tries to make a claim, they discover an even more valuable find. Gold! Gold rings worn on the fingers of a corpse to be exact.

In one of the bedroom cabins was:

“a beautiful girl, dead in a mangle, staring at him with wide black eyes. Nailer sucked in his breath. Even bruised and dead, she was pretty, pinned under the pile of her bed and the weight of all the stuff that had crushed her.”

Nailer reached for his knife, but where should he make the cut? You can’t cut through bone, so the best place was the joint. As he pressed his blade into the girl’s flesh, those dark black eyes came to life.

If you like a dystopian page turner, if you like books such as the Hunger Games, then I would recommend, Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. (YA-recommended by BCBT for 8th grade and higher.)

I think a comparison study between the Hunger Games by Collins and Ship Breaker by Bacigalupi would be a valuable exercise in looking at key characteristics of contemporary YA literature. There would be the dark settings to compare. There would be a female protagonist to compare with a male protagonist. However, something more incisive could be a comparison of difficult choices both protagonists are forced to make in each story.

Do you agree with Meghan Cox Gurdon's article that YA literature is getting too dark? Read: Darkness Too Visible (printed in the Wall Street Journal). Also checkout: The Danger, Values of Dark Teen Lit at NPR.

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