Ship Breaker is a bleak look at a dystopian future. Almost all the oil in the world has been consumed and global warming has drowned most sea-coast cities and spawns “city-killer” hurricanes. Huge corporations run the world and Chinese “red cash” is the most desirable currency. The world has also tinkered with genetic manipulation and much of the fighting is done by “half men”, a combination of men, tigers and dogs.
Our protagonist is Nailer Lopez, a young teenage boy who lives and works on Bright Sands Beach on the Gulf Coast. Grounded oil tankers are the magnets that draw people to live here. Breaking up the big ships is the job of heavy crew while light crew like Nailer do the dangerous and dirty work inside the big ships, stripping them of copper wire in a daily battle to make quota. Without work, people starve. Nailer’s crew boss is his only friend, Pima, but even she must make quota. Nailer’s Dad is his sole relative, but he’s addicted to crystal slide and alcohol and takes out his fury and frustration on Nailer. Pima and her mother Sadna are his refuge when his father gets violent.
While trying to finish his work ahead of a killer hurricane bearing down on them, he falls into a hidden pool of oil. He calls to his workmate to save him, but she breaks the unwritten crew law that says you have each other’s back and coils up the copper and leaves him. When he escapes via a hatch under the oil, she is cast out on the beach by the rest of the crew. The hurricane then rages for 3 whole days. Pima and Nailer go looking for shellfish on a nearby island after the storm and come across a wrecked clipper ship. Clippers move most of the freight that railways don’t but this one is a personal yacht with immense scavenge wealth. While moving through the ship, they come upon a beautiful girl who looks drowned, but when they try to cut the gold rings off her swollen fingers she opens her eyes. Pima is all for killing her right away, but after his brush with drowning in the oil, Nailer is strangely reluctant. The girl, Nita, is from one of the big corporate families that dominate the globe and she promises them great rewards for saving her and helping her to locate her people. But there’s more to her story than she is telling them.
The themes of trust, loyalty, and greed weave throughout the book. For a YA book, it’s very dark and grim. However, it’s not an entirely unbelievable look at a possible future and I enjoyed it very much. The audiobook’s narrator, Joshua Swanson, does a great job of defining the different characters with different voices. I’d recommend this for older teenagers and adults as a sobering environmental warning and an exciting adventure.