In Nailer’s world, you need luck to survive. You can be small and able to work on light crew, stripping copper from shipwrecks for low pay. Or you can be strong on heavy crew, breaking down the larger metal salvage. But if you get an infection, you won’t be able to get medication, and you’ll die of fever. If you get stuck inside a wreck you’ll drown, or choke in the dust and oil, and the rats will eat you. Of course, even if you have no bad luck and are smart enough to do everything right, you still die on the beach sooner or later. Unless you get a really lucky strike. . . .
After a huge “city killer” hurricane, Nailer and Pima find an isolated wreck and hurry to get the first scavenge. But when they find a rich girl still alive, they have to make a choice. Pima suggests two options: cut the ringed fingers off her swollen hands while she’s alive, or slit her throat first. The girl is, after all, a great scavenge–a true lucky strike. With just the gold rings on her fingers they could feed themselves and more—maybe never have to work again. But Nailer chooses to save her instead, knowing that this decision might be the last he ever makes. Now he and “Lucky Girl” must somehow escape the clutches of her rich father’s corporate enemies and Nailer’s abusive, drug-addict father who wants to turn Lucky Girl in for ransom.
This post-apocalyptic vision of Earth’s future is very violent and very dark. Bacigalupi explores the meaning of family and loyalty and challenges readers to reflect on human treatment of the environment and the extreme gap in wealth and lifestyle between the heads of corporations and the lowest level industry workers. Ship Breaker took the 2011 Printz Award (for Young Adult Literature) and was a finalist for the National Book award. It is a great read for teens and adults.