February 18th, 2013

Book with cat 2

Book #6 -- AKA Best Book of the Year

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.

I love it when an author trusts their readers. Ship Breaker drops you into a world that is similar to ours, and explains almost nothing. And I loved it. (The one and only worry I had about this book was that the author would lose his nerve and explain everything before the book ended. That never happened, and I love it all the more for that.)

The book opens with a boy on a beach. The beach is the final resting place of an oil tanker ship. The boy and others like him (small pre-teen children) are part of the "light crew" of ship breakers -- they crawl through the ductwork and collect copper wire, nickle, steel, and other metals. "Heavy crews" are made up of adult large and strong enough to break down the outer skins of the tankers.

There are a lot of children too big, too slow, or not clever enough to get in on light crews. The small children of the light crews rarely get big enough to make the cut to get into a heavy crew. This work is nearly the only source of money in the area, and it pays less than poverty-level. It's also very dangerous. Not just in the short term, but they're breathing dust, fumes, rat dropping dust, and the occasional dead person/animal without any sort of protective gear.

The world is different than ours. At first I thought it had run out of gas/oil, but it turned out to be more complicated than that. Everything had changed, but clearly it was still our world (city names were the same).

I kept thinking I could guess where the story was going. Every time I thought I saw a twist coming, I was wrong. Characters kept surprising me. The story was amazing.

The writing! The writing was something else. I couldn't even pin down how he made scenes so exciting (my heart raced more than once during the book!). It seemed like "normal", average writing, there weren't flowery sentences or tricky wording, but somehow he had me holding my breath and gasping and going "Nooooo!" multiple times.

This was the very rare sort of book that had me saying out loud "This is a very good book" while reading the first paragraph. (That only happened once before.) I wish I hadn't flown through reading it so quickly!

I have not one single negative thing to say about this book. The characters were so real, the dialog was 100% believable, the settings were so well described that I feel like I've seen them... and yet he didn't spend any time describing them that I noticed.

I have no idea how this was a National Book Award finalist and not an outright winner...

I'm not sure yet what book #7 will be, but I think it will be another by him.