Winner of the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, Ship Breaker is a dystopian novel set in a ruined Gulf Coast. As a way to survive a harsh world of wrecked oil tankers and hurricanes, Nailer, a teenage boy, scuttles inside ducts of wrecked tankers gathering copper wire for a big salvage company. In this devastated world, salvage rights equal power, and working for the salvage company is the only way to avoid life on the crime and drug ridden beach—where his father resides since the death of his wife, Nailer’s mother.
Between the inherent dangers in crawling around the inside of old tankers, a violent drug-addicted father, and the storms that hit the gulf, Nailer lives a grim and precarious existence. His becoming trapped inside the tanker early in the story is metaphor for the way he is trapped within the constraints of the life he was born into. The only bright spots are his friend Pima, her mother, Sadna, and Nailer’s dream to live aboard one of the clipper ships that he watches from a distance as they skim at high speeds above the water.
After a particularly devastating hurricane, called a “city killer,” Nailer and Pima find a sunken clipper ship with enough salvage on board to buy their freedom and a cushy life. They plan to keep it a secret until they can claim salvage rights—but of course things are never that simple. Salvage rights are worth dying for, and on board the ship is a complication. Nailer faces decisions that will define him and obstacles that reveal how difficult it can be to escape one’s circumstances.
—Kari Baumbach, children’s literature enthusiast
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