Ship Breaker

Ship Breaker - Ship Breaker is one of those books that suffers a lot from how close it came to being something spectacular. I started reading, encountered all these marvelous characters and concepts, and I got my hopes up. I got my hopes way up. And my hopes crashed and burned. My hopes are a stripper in LA still claiming “I’ll be an actress someday!”THE GOODThe first 50 pages, and everything therein, were really good. And I mean really, really good. The idea of the world, as kind of a half-pocalypse, where things go to shit but we’ve still got the same bureaucracy, it was at once very believable and very fresh. The idea of the titular ship breakers, people tearing apart pre-apocalypse tankers and (we assume) various other structures, the shanty-town that built up around these ships and the jobs they provided, all of it was excellent.Even the harshness of it was so marvelous. This was a very hard book to read just in how stark and desperate the people in it are on a daily basis. There were points in this first 50 pages where I hurt, and I was supposed to, because I felt the loss and frustration of the characters so clearly. This book was so good at putting the reader in the mind and situation of its desperately poor main characters. The details were excellent. It felt like a fully-realized new world. It wasn’t one half-baked concept that got a plot attached to it somehow; no, this author really put in the time to think about how everything would have changed, and how things should work now, and then he brought that new world to light for us. THE BADAnd then Nita showed up. And everything went to shit. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Nita is a bad character. She’s not a good one, either, but overall she’s just sort of…bland. The reason I hate her is not for her character as written, but for what she does to the plot. She’s basically a Disney Princess, with her utter perfection and her incessant pleasantness and her…just…Disney Princess-ness. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s like the book wanted so hard to make her perfect for the sake of justifying how people are literally dying left and right for her. Oh, and also for why the main character falls in love with her, I guess. There was nothing particularly objectionable about Nita, but she always felt more like a MacGuffin than an actual character.Another thing is the lost potential with Nita. A person as a MacGuffin? Totally doable if you play it right. But this book didn’t; this book played like it had no idea it was even doing that. And having one person be uber important for the sake of leverage/machinations? Yes, possible, and can even be really fun. But don’t on top of that also make her a Princess and then have everyone go on about how they’ll die for her because she’s awesome/for the sake of heavy-handed “loyalty.”There’s a number of inconsistencies. Like…what happened to Captain Sung? Nita hid a bunch of gold rings early on; why didn’t they come back when they needed money halfway through the novel? And Nailer’s dad at the end, why didn’t the gears turn him into salsa chunks, when it was stated that even smaller gears would have done that trick?The plot was so…straightforward once they got off the beach. For something that promised such complexity at the start, it boiled down to your basic “Save the Princess” kind of story.Want to know what the messages are, but can’t quite figure them out? Don’t worry, the characters will straight-up tell you what you’re supposed to learn. Not even kidding. These uneducated teenagers will sit down for six straight pages and deliver very eloquent philosophical banter, just in case you missed what the book was trying to teach you. And then they’ll do it again, and again, and again. I guess they don’t want you to strain your brain figuring things out on your own.THE UGLY “Even bruised and dead, she was pretty[…]” -pg 90. No, book. No. Just a million times no. Nita is described as pretty far too often in this book, no matter the situation, no matter if she’s crushed, presumed dead, starved, half drowned, doesn’t matter NITA IS ALWAYS PRETTY BECAUSE THE PERFECT PRINCESS MUST ALWAYS BE PRETTY. SHE CAN’T BE A LOVE INTEREST OR HAVE PEOPLE DIE TO RESCUE HER IF SHE’S NOT PRETTY, ALRIGHT?No, not alright, and it pissed me off.And, really, in isolation the book’s not that bad on this front, but when I compare it to what I thought the book was going to be at the start…I’m really pissed off at the poor/rich comparisons in this book. It could have been such a wonderful look at the disparity between the poor and rich, at the way those at the top view those at the bottom, at the desperate decisions that some people have to make which seem so incongruous to those of us living in comfort. But it dropped all of that like a hot potato as soon as one rich girl showed up, so that she could be the center of whole fucking universe. Suddenly it wasn’t about “hard decisions” or “poverty vs wealth,” no, it was “the rich girl is now the most important person by virtue of being virtuous, therefore Nailer is going to give us some half-assed excuse that will be dropped soon and risk his life repeatedly to save hers. Because I guess rich people really are more important in the end.”Seriously, I bear Nita no ill will as a character, but I wanted her to die, just so that this book would at least do something new and harsh. In the end, this was just your basic YA adventure story. Everything that made it a challenging read got abandoned so that the plucky poor farm boy could go save the pretty-pretty princess.