Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi--Slide

Bibliography: Bacigalupi, P. (2010). Ship breaker. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Summary: In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life... (Little, Brown and Company).

Tool: Slide

Slide is a basic, one-function slideshow tool. The user can upload their images and design a slideshow using various templates and effects. I kept my example simple, using only the 8MM style to create the gritty effect I wanted for Ship Breaker, but users can choose from several preset designs, styles, skins (Slide's term for "frames"), and themes (think animated daisies or stars moving across your photos). Slide's caption feature is very helpful, allowing users to bypass the creation and conversion of JPEG images in PowerPoint when they need to display text, a common scenario in image-based tools. Google has recently acquired Slide, and, subsequently, the site has experienced some changes. In true Google fashion, simplicity is now Slide's selling point, and the tool has slimmed down on many of its features. While this does make it very easy to use, one absent--and very missed--feature is an audio accompaniment. Slideshows are no longer able to have a soundtrack. If your goal is to create an exciting, gripping-the-edge-of-your-seat book trailer, I recommend more animated tools such as Animoto or One True Media. If your goal is to create a simple, sharable slideshow with interesting, albeit basic, visual effects, however, Slide is your tool, and the results can be very effective.

Review: It is fitting that Ship Breaker—a dystopian novel set in a future Gulf Coast community destroyed by its predecessors’ reliance on fossil fuels and yet still vicariously relying on that past—won the 2011 Printz award following the most destructive oil spill in history. Bacigalupi makes that future seem very near, and although Ship Breaker is science fiction, the “science” element is very subtle. Wind-powered clipper ships and genetically mutated “half-men” are shrewdly woven into a gritty reality of slave labor and death, and because these inventions are so far removed from the hellish, wonderfully descriptive life of Nailer, the protagonist, both he and the reader are able to marvel at them together.

The story itself contains relatively traditional components: dreams of escape to a better life, boy meets girl, kidnapping, pirates, adventure on the high seas. This familiarity also helps ground the reader in Bacigalupi’s universe, as does his use of familiar locations, such as New Orleans, although here the city is in its third ruinous reincarnation, devastated by hurricanes, or “city-killers.” In order to depict a realistic “global” future, the characters are all of multiple ethnicities—in fact, there is only one easily identifiable white character in the book. This multiculturalism should ring true to teenagers, many of whom are already learning that they will have to compete globally as adults, a theme in the novel. Fans of nonfiction and realistic fiction will appreciate Ship Breaker for its politics—what decisions are being made on the global scale, and how are they affecting people at the local level?

In Nailer’s case, the “local level” means deadly work stripping down ships for their salvageable materials. It means slavery and starvation and daily beatings from a drug-addled father. The wealthy Nita, however, sees ship breaking, or processing recycled materials, as an environmentally friendly and economical way to run a business. Overall, Ship Breaker is a sophisticated use of the YA genre in order to comment on global warming and reliance on fossil fuels. Tool, one of Bacigalupi’s humanoid characters, may put it best, however: “The climate changed. The weather shifted. They did not anticipate well” (p. 204). Grades 7+.


  1. This is a really nice blog! Congratulations. I hope that you will be posting more. You've created some great examples!
    --Linda Mercer
    School librarian
    John Burroughs School
    St. Louis, MO

  2. Love your blog!! But what happened to the Boy Toy post?

  3. I was having some problems with the tool that I originally chose for Boy Toy, so I have removed that post until I can find a tool I feel will best showcase Lyga's story.

    Thank you for all of your supportive comments!