Friday, July 29, 2011

Ship Breaker

Here’s a fun question:  When you first started driving, what was the cost of gas?  When I turned 16 in 1998 it was less than a dollar.  I almost think I remember it hitting $0.89 at one point.  Now the notion of watching the “Gallons pumped” meter outpace the “$” meter is as foreign as having to actually remember your friends’ phone numbers in order to call them.  It makes one ask the question, what if the oil actually ran out?

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi takes us to a future world where that has actually happened.  Tankers, cruise ships, and all other form of oil dependant sea vessels now sit on beaches as fossils of what people refer to as the “accelerated age.”  Our main character is Nailer, a 13ish (he’s not completely sure about his age) boy living along the gulf coast where people survive by stripping the old ships of anything useful.  Nailer’s main talent is that he is small, so he is tasked with crawling into the smallest areas of the ships to remove copper wiring and other precious metals.

The book is marketed to young adults as most of the main characters are in their teens.  Readers should note that it does contain some very mature elements.  Nailer’s world is dangerous and violent.  His father is an abusive drunk, and many of the other people he meets aren’t much nicer.  Nailer is forced to confront a number of serious decisions, some with rather gruesome outcomes.  

I should be clear at this point, I am in no way dismissing the book due to its mature elements.  When I was a seventh grader at a small Lutheran school I had a teacher tell me that I couldn't use the novel Creature for my book report because it was inappropriate.  You may ask, how did I come about a horror novel in a nice Christian school?  I got it from the Scholastic book order the teacher gave me, duh.  Of course I read the book anyway.  It was an OK thriller with a few curse words and some people dying and I remember wondering why the teacher thought this was way to much for me to handle.

All that is to say that when we try to overly sensor what our students read, especially as they enter adolescence, we insult their intelligence and do them a disservice.  Ship Breaker addresses some very real issues of sustainability, poverty, drug use and economics that are worth discussing.  

I appreciated that the author did not try to get preachy or heavy handed about the exact circumstances preceding the end of the “Accelerated Age”.  We are dropped directly into Nailer’s present world and the challenges now facing him.  In this way the book does what science fiction should, it creates a fictional world with enough ties to our own that we are led to examine ourselves while still enjoying a good story.

Although the book does touch on a lot of different issues, at its heart it is and adventure novel with a great pace solid characters.  I would recommend it to any teen interested in action or science fiction stories.

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