I've been hearing such amazing things about author Paolo Bacigalupi for a while now, and I walk by his novel The Windup Girl every day. When his YA novel Ship Breaker came up on the list for our YA book group, I was happy to have a reason to finally read him.
And can I say how happy I am that I did? Less than half-way through Ship Breaker, I had to buy a copy of Windup Girl because I loved his writing so much. His descriptions of a world in which the environment is battling back against us and people work in harsh conditions make everything seem disturbingly real.
Nailer, our protagonist, lives and works on a beach on the Louisiana coast, scuttling through ducts on a grounded oil tanker, dragging costly metals like copper back to the surface to sell. When a city killer storm (the kind of storm that has made this world rebuild New Orleans three times) rolls through and the beach community gets destroyed, Nailer and his friend Pima venture down the beach to see what washed up during the storm. What they find, though, is one of the nicest ships they've ever seen, a true bounty of scavengable material. Of course, they find something more precious than even they expected, and then Nailer is forced to leave the only home he's ever known to protect it.
There are many things going for this novel. First, the main character is a boy, so rare in well-written YA. Second, there are no creatures to deal with (genetically-designed half men aside), and the frighteningly real environment and plain human nature are the things that cause trouble. Third, this is a world that it is easy to imagine could come about, and thinking through how we could get from here to there is a great exercise for kids. There needs to be more of this in YA - good, straightforward sci-fi storytelling.