This book surprised me. It came up on a bunch of "people who read X read Ship Breaker" lists and I started tracking it around. When I read the acknowledgements and learned that Paolo Bacigalupi is friendly with other MG and YA writers I adore (Sarah Prineas, Greg van Eekhout), it started to click. But beyond the fact that this writer knows others I like, this book is just flat out excellent.
This is the story of Nailer, a light crew member, teen boy living on the gulf coast in a post-apocalyptic world of brutality, riding from one storm to the next. His father is unbelievably cruel, his life full of work breaking down big old ships on the coast, hoping to find a "Lucky Strike." When he and his friend discover a small yacht wrecked after a storm, they've hit the bigtime, until they find a girl hurt inside. The process of figuring out what to do about the girl, avoiding his brutal father, and eventually leaving his gulf community is the meat of this fast-paced story.
For parents, the story includes quite a lot of violence, adults against each other, adults against children. The characters pull through for the most part. There is also some youth drinking, which helps illustrate how foreign a world these kids live in, even while we can envision it from trips to Florida. I would suggest it's best suited for kids old enough to handle these mature themes, which to me is 13ish and up, 7th gradeish and up. Depends on the reader. The violence and drinking are not any worse than that portrayed in Hunger Games (though the kids partake of the firewater in this book.)
The way this book surprised me is that I'm generally a little sick of YA dystopias. I'm a super-fan of science fiction and a writer of YA/MG sci-fi myself, and get tired of the bleak and dark future portrayed in so many. While this book does paint a pretty desperate picture of the future, the spirit of the characters carried me up and out of that bleakness. I really enjoyed this book.
I enjoyed the pacing, I enjoyed the way Nailer had a plucky spirit that made me root for him from the very first moment. I enjoyed the richly painted future world that was similar but oh-so different from our current world. I found the book immensely compelling, very hard to put down. I hope you will, too.