Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

In a dirty near future where children risk their lives scavenging scrap metal in order eat one more day, Nailer is a ship breaker. He and his crew swarm over long abandoned rusted oil tankers hunting for copper wiring and hidden caches of black gold. His life is mean, hard and cheap and every day that he dives back into the depths of the old ships, he knows he may not make it back. But what is his alternative? His mother is a distant memory, while his sociopathic, drug addicted father is so terrifying Nailer would rather spend the night in a pitch-black hold than go back to their shabby little beach shack. Ship breakers pray for that one big lucky break, and one day, Nailer gets his. A devastating hurricane, a “city killer” levels the beach where he lives and works, bringing with it a marooned clipper ship full of valuable salvage. On board, he discovers a “swank,” a rich, beautiful teenage girl who is dripping with gold and nearly dead. His decision to save her instead of murder her for her jewels changes his life irreparably. Suddenly he is thrust into a bewildering world of corporate corruption, high-speed chases and brutal violence. But his hard upbringing serves him well–if Nailer knows one thing, it’s how to survive. It is only when his murderous father appears seeking revenge for what he believes is Nailer’s betrayal does the intrepid man-boy falter. His father is worse than any monster Nailer has faced so far. Does he have the courage to fight the one person faster and smarter than himself? This dystopian environmental thriller is magnificent in its pacing, characterization and world building. When Nailer arrived in the drowned city of Orleans, I got a shiver down my spine imagining that rich metropolis abandoned to hurricanes and left to turn into a rotting hulk. While the action is fast and furious, sci-fi master Paolo Bacigalupi doesn’t sacrifice an iota of characterization. Nailer and his supporting cast of canine half-men, courageous ship captains and crafty orphan naïfs come to life on the page—I felt as though I were reading about a present that was instead of a future that may be. Imagine all that in a book that clocks in under 350 pages. I’m getting pretty tired of big books that seem bloated with unnecessary detail, but no worries here, THIS Ship is t-i-g-h-t. Batten down the hatches, lift anchor and prepare to set sail with Nailer on a gritty adventure of a lifetime!

Scott Pilgrim: Precious Little Life, vol. 1 by Bryan Lee O’Malley

scott pilgrim
Before you tell me, I KNOW. I know Scott Pilgrim has been around since 2004 and I probably should have covered his precious little life before now. I know tons of you have already read all five volumes (#6 debuts July 2010) of his graphic novel adventures. But for those of you who haven’t yet met the sweetest slacker boy since Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, and want the skinny before Michael Cera makes him famous on the big screen, here ya go. Scott Pilgrim is a happy go lucky dude. He’s living in an apartment almost entirely furnished and kept up by his sardonic gay roommate Wallace Wells and playing gigs with his rock and roll band while waiting for the perfect job to find him. Oh yeah, and he’s dating a high schooler named Knives Chau, (she’s 17, he’s 23) who’s completely adorable and NOT the ninja assassin her name might imply. (BTW, if I even have to leave the country abruptly, I am TOTALLY changing my name to Knives. Don’t tell anyone, k?) Everything’s just peachy until he has a crazy dream about a roller-blading delivery girl and discovers that she’s not just a dream (as in, “Get out of my dreams and into my car”) but a real live girl named Ramona Flowers (My fav quote from the book? “I know, it’s so ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’ and yet…Flowers.”). Scott and Ramona feel an instant connection. But what about Knives? How can Scott bear to break her innocent little heart? Then there’s also the small matter of Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends, who Scott will have to fight and conquer if he wants to date her. Sound complicated? It IS. And that’s JUST volume 1! I really dug O’Malley’s rough sketched big-eyed art, his completely realistic portrayal of Scott’s dating drama with both Knives and Ramona, and the hilarious shot of bizarre fantasy at the end as Scott takes on the first of Ramona’s evil ex’s, Matthew Patel and his host of flying demon fireball girls. But the part that warms my heart is how he thanks my fav indie comic girl Hope Larson in the front. Awww! Arm yourself with all 6 paperbacks now, so you’ll be ready to debate about whether the movie does Scott justice when it hits theaters August 2010.

Somebody Everybody Listens To by Suzanne Supplee

Retta Lee Jones has a dream to become a famous country singer like Dolly Parton or Patsy Cline. She’s just been marking time in high school, waiting tables at Bluebell’s Diner and longing for the moment when she can leave her small town forever and head for the bright lights of Nashville. A few weeks after graduation, in her great-aunt Goggy’s aged Caprice Classic and with just $500 in her jeans pocket, Retta takes off, hoping that talent, drive and determination will be enough to make her dreams come true. But if you’ve ever listened to any country music, you know that’s about as likely as cat getting out of a room full of rocking chairs with it’s tail intact. First she gets in a car accident. Then she gets mugged, losing the rest of her small savings. Soon she’s sleeping in the back seat of the Caprice and bathing homeless style in public restroom sinks. Retta manages to score a singing gig in a local dive outside Nashville, but the cheap owner rarely remembers to pay her, while the audience is pretty small and mostly made up of senior citizens. It seems like every bad thing that ever happened in a country song is happening to Retta–until she snares a spot singing at open-mike night at the Mockingbird Café, a famous Nashville club where lots of singers have been discovered. But just as things are looking up, Retta gets a devastating phone call. Her family is in crisis, and they need her to come home. Will this songbird ever be given the opportunity to fly? Or will her wings be clipped by unfortunate circumstances and bad luck? It’s so refreshing to read a book about a topic that’s hasn’t been rehashed about six thousand times already in YA Lit. Supplee’s chapter headings are famous country music songs that form a playlist for Retta’s journey, along with brief bios of the singers themselves. I loved learning quick facts about country stars from Patty Loveless to Keith Urban and everyone in between. Retta’s determination not to give up in the face of terrible odds is sincere and hopeful without being sappy. While country music may not be your thang, this is one novel that’s long on lit. and short on twang 🙂 (I know, I know. You’re good to bear with me.)