Review originally posted here
.Why I Read It:
I can't remember where I first heard about Bacigalupi, but I do know that I put him on my radar because I had read a handful of positive reviews for his award-winning novel The Wind-Up Girl
. I then looked into him further and found out he had a short story collection which Shara (from Calico Reaction) reviewed favourably (which you can read here
). Then I found out he had recently published a YA novel, and well, I love YA. So, this all made me decide to buy ALL three of these books on a whim. I've since then read Pump Six and Other Stories
, his short story collection, and I loved it. I don't know what took me so long to get to this book though.. but not matter. With the recent release of the companion novel The Drowned Cities
(which I've already read and will be reviewing soon), this was the perfect time to read this!
Something consistent within Bacigalupi's short story collection was that it was grim and VERY pessimistic; the stories take place in very harsh realities that often draw on things going on in our world right now. It makes for sometimes uncomfortable reading, but I mean this as a compliment. Bacigalupi doesn't shy away from tough subjects, and I loved Pump Six
This novel, despite being YA, is no different. Yeah, it's targeted for teenagers, but readers are presented with a very grim and unwelcoming world. Bacigalupi also once again uses real-life actualities, such as climate change, to influence the world he paints for us: this is a world where it's not uncommon for level-7 hurricanes to strike; where cities are have been completely submerged; where class divide is now insurmountable. It's a world that's determined by luck and one's choices, and if you make the wrong decision, you're dead. It's really harsh, but again, I appreciated the novel all the more for that. Just because this book is going into the hands of teens doesn't mean that these issues should be shied away from; nothing is sugar-coated here. All of this is to say that the world-building is some of the best I've seen in awhile. I especially appreciate it when I consider how many dystopias are released every year with ridiculous premises; this one is very much an ACTUAL dystopia in that it presents to us a future that could actually happen.
The characters were lacking a little "oomph" for me, but I can't put my finger on WHY. They were definitely all likable and they're very easy to root for. Nailer is an instantly sympathetic hero not just because of his living conditions, but because of his father, who is a raging psychopath (which is putting it kind of lightly.) The "swank" girl he rescues, Nita, is very well-balanced; she's not a dimwit, despite being a spoiled brat (and she is), but she's also very flawed in how she presents herself. She clearly thinks she's superior to Nailer, and she thinks that the salvaging work her father has Nailer's people doing is perfectly okay and very much a good idea. But she's toughens up when the going gets rough. The secondary characters were all quite good, with Pima and her mother being my favourites. Tool was a badass and I was very happy to see him come back for The Drowned Cities
The story itself is very much -- and I hate saying this because I HATE making gender divides -- a "boy" book. There's lots of action and the story moves at a clipping pace. It is nice to see a YA book that can appeal to male readers. I'm not saying they're SUPER rare, but I work at a bookstore and parents often have a hard time finding a book for their 12-14 year old boy. I've always recommended this one in the past, even before I read it (in part because my younger brother read it and loved it), and now I can do so with my own love for this book behind it as well. Anyway, things are always happening in this novel and 300+ pages fly by.
The writing itself is very gritty and to-the-point. This makes a lot of sense considering we're reading from Nailer's POV, and he would be a very straight-forward guy, I would think. But just because it's gritty doens't mean it's simplistic. I think Shara said it best when she stated that the book just bluntly SAYS the message its trying to convey instead of trying to hide everything in metaphor, but is all the better for it. No, it's not lyrical or deep or as involved as other books, but I think it's exactly what it needs to be.Final Verdict:
The more I think about this book, the more I like it. Bacigalupi's world-building is topnotch and is easily the best part of this novel. It draws on things that are happening today and projects a future that looks very plausible. The rules of this world are brutal and harsh, but he doesn't shy away from them even though this is a YA novel. The story has a quick pace which keeps the pages turning, and is populated by likable but realistically flawed characters. The writing is gritty and reflects Nailer and the world he's grown up in. Highly recommended. :)