As the title entails, Ship Breaker is set in coastal area of dystopian America, wherein the main source of income is scavenging and dismantling shipwrecked oil tankers. Our story’s hero is Nailer. Nailer is a skinny teenage boy small enough to crawl into the nooks and crannies of an oil tanker to scout and scavenge copper lines. To do this, one has to be part of a crew. No crew, means no source of living in this part of the world. And in this line of job, the danger of being replaced or booted out is always highly probable. So, loyalty and hard work plays a very important part on being a member.
In this bleak environment, Nailer found family with Pima and her mother, Sadna. Nailer's own mother died when he was younger, and he grew up battered by his toxic-brained father, Richard Lopez. So, Pima and Sadna took upon themselves to care for Nailer anytime he gets hurt or beaten by Lopez. As much as he wanted to leave Lopez, Nailer still values their blood-ties. Every time he finds the urge to do so, he reminds himself of the times when his father is sober enough to be mindful.
More than anything, people in this place believe in fate. Once in a while people get lucky, and may edge a little in their status. So when Nailer and Pima found a shipwrecked clipper on the other side of the coast, they believed it to be their luck. First looters always get the prize, after all. Upon scavenging, they found a girl survivor in the wreckage. The debate to kill her for the loot, or save her and lose everything was fierce; but the humane thing won in the end. In no time, Nailer found himself jumping a train towards New Orleans with Nita the lucky girl, and Tool the hybrid.
"Blood is not destiny, no matter what others may believe."
The plot was never focused on the setting. No lamentation on how the earth was desecrated and abused. It was simply a setting to get the story moving. Instead, the story focused on characters, on how the dystopian society molds the people. We see a picture collage of people moving on with their lives after the icecaps in the arctic all melted. Bacigalupi created a society wherein the ruthless and the shrewd rules. Morals were often set aside to survive. The characters were pretty much rounded; the author was able to show both their good and bad sides. He’s really good in manipulating the reader’s imagination, exacting each scene on how it was supposed to be seen, in spite of the reader’s lack of sailing, navigational, or (mere) swimming skills.
There’s a lot going on in this story, both good and bad, but both essential in making this a great read. If you are for a lyrical prose and decent language, then you are out; but if those don't matter and you like adventure, action and excitement, then you are so in. Loyalty, Trust, Compassion, and Family were but a few of the themes circulating within the story.
I recommend this without reservations. It really is a great read.