Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's a hard knock life for a Printz winner

Ship Breaker
by Paolo Bacigalupi
New York: Little Brown & Company, 2010.
ISBN: 978-0-316-05621-2

Nailer is a ship breaker living and working on the beach of an unrecognizable but easily plausible future New Orleans, ravaged by global warming and the intense weather it brings. He spends his days struggling to stay alive while scavenging inside old tankers, and his nights struggling to stay alive and avoid his drug-addicted and abusive father. In this hard-knock world, getting ahead is nearly impossible to imagine, and finding your "Lucky Strike," or ticket out of the misery, is what everyone dreams of. But after a massive hurricane, Nailer is seemingly struck with luck when he stumbles upon an extremely expensive yacht shipwrecked on the beach. When he finds a wealthy girl hovering on the brink of death inside though, the tides turn. Is it a lucky find? Should he leave her to die, scavenge what he can, and not look back? Or should he leave the boat and save her? Ship Breaker explores the gravity, responsibility, morality, and ethics of decision making, trust, and love. The chapters are filled with life or death chases, near escapes, moments of great valiance and greed, and choices that are not always easy. Baciagalupi's writing is not elegant, but it is serviceable and engaging, and his characters reveal themselves to be working for good or evil on their own terms. Uniquely, all protagonists are minorities. Due to the gruesome end several characters meet at the hands of others, this book is recommended for mature 7th graders through 10th grade.

It's likely that I'm probably bitter that Patrick Ness won no major American prizes for his incredible The Chaos Walking series. But here's where I throw a little truthiness at you. I liked this book. I bought it for my library. I think the adventure will appeal. But I don't think this book is a Printz winner. Not by a long shot. At times I had trouble picking it up, not because I wasn't enjoying it (I was!), or because it was boring (definitely NOT boring!) or too gruesome (frankly, the murder here is...PG.). In fact, I'm not entirely sure why I wasn't hook-line-sinkered, because I usually love me a good adventure/chase. I did enjoy realizing that nobody was Whitey McWhite, unlike the vast majority of YA available. And frankly, it's not that this book or the writing is bad. It just doesn't sing for me or strike me as an original, new concept, like the vast majority of Printz winners. As I said in the review above, the writing is serviceable. But it ain't pretty. And the concepts while deep and provocative, are nothing new.

Don't get me wrong - I don't need to LOVE a Printz winner. But I do think I should at least understand why a winner was deserving. There are so many books that cover all the issues of questioning, burgeoning morality, sense of right verses wrong, trust, family, love, etc. so so SO much more elegantly and eloquently. There just were a few too many shortcomings for me. And to boot, some questions are left unanswered, possibly leaving room for a sequel or same world story. For example, there is no explanation why Tool is free-thinking, yet the other half-men are not. What's up with that? At the end of the day, I will not hesitate in recommending this to my patrons as a great read. But frankly? A Printz winner?

In completely unrelated news, I didn't realize that ship breaking is actually a job. And it apparently sucks just as much as it does in the book. I discovered this video when I googled the book title. Join me in feeling rather glum about this.

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