Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ship Breaker

Nailer is foraging for copper wire in the guts of an old tanker that has washed up on shore. The work is grimy, claustrophobic and very dangerous. Nailer is with a group of teenagers whose nasty boss expects them to meet their copper-wire quota or else they will be easily replaced by other youths. Nailer's world is ugly. His Dad beats him. Many people are high on drugs. Some sell their own blood for money. Some kidnap others and sell them for organ parts. Living in this degenerate futuristic society is so ruthless that it is either kill or be killed. Loyalty and trust don't really exist although teenagers try to establish it among their crews. But even this is shaky.  The only safehaven for Nailer is with the adult, Sadna, a woman who actually shows kindness and caring in a brutal community. 

Nailer's world is the result of humans causing global warming which has melted the ice caps and changed the climate. Hurricanes come so frequently and the ocean has risen so high it has submerged some cities completely. Nailer lives with poor, illiterate people who believe that the only way to improve their lot is to get lucky. When Nailer finds a clipper ship with a beautiful wealthy girl, Nita, he thinks about more than luck and money - he thinks about getting out. Out of the poverty. Out of the violence. Out of the despair. He wants to leave his city and be with Nita. The only problem is that others want Nita as well, but they want her for the money she will bring them either dead or alive.

The story is action-packed and full of violence. The author, Paolo Bacigalupi, does a nice job describing the details and incorporating the senses. I felt I couldn't breath along with Nailer when he was inside the tanker. Another strength in the writing is the internal conflict  Nailer has as he debates doing the right thing or wrong thing. Some weaknesses in the story are how  Bacigalupi never fully explains the new government and how the power has shifted in such a way that there are very few rich people. I never had a complete grasp of who was in control of the government and how it fit into the society. In addition, the characters are supposed to be illiterate but the voices are too educated. They swear a lot and I think the author was using that to show them as uneducated but they started to sound alike and it didn't ring true. The author does do a great job developing the character, Tool, who is part human and animal. I would have liked more of an explanation on why he isn't loyal to a master. That was not explained to the reader. Another part of the plot that was clumsy was when Nailer was taught to read in days. No one learns to read in days. That's just silly. The ending didn't bring closure between Nita and Nailer. Why isn't he on the ship with her? It seemed like it was written with a sequel in mind which I guess is supposed to come out in 2011.

Last, this is an incredibly violent book and much of it comes from Nailer's Dad and the adults. There are descriptions of dead bodies, Nailer and Pima discussing cutting off dead people's fingers to get gold rings, and selling Nita so her eyes and heart can be used by harvesters or her body to make babies. People are killed and mutilated throughout this entire book. Also, Nailer and Nita have a small romance going but they are too busy trying to stay alive for much to happen besides a kiss.

This book won the Prinz award and was a finalist for the National Book award. I was surprised because of the flaws in the plot. Also, the swirling tattoos the ship breaker crews have reminded me of Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld and didn't seem original at all.  Bacigalupi is a good descriptive writer and readers will love the action, tension, and suspense, but I didn't think it was an awesome award-winning book just an entertaining one albeit extremely violent .

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Library: an Illustrated History

Of the 123,000 libraries in the U.S., almost 100,000 are in public schools. Libraries have been around since ancient civilizations, but in the U.S. libraries have been supported and increased as a result of peaceful times, philanthropists, democratic ideals and more. The rise of the middle class in America meant demands for education and knowledge and libraries were interwoven into existing democratic ideals. It was believed that freedom of thought and the ability to think for oneself was necessary in a democratic society made up of educated, informed citizens. In his book, The Library: an Illustrated History, Stuart Murphy looks at libraries from ancient Mesopotamia to modern times.   He examines libraries in the East and West in this beautifully illustrated book full of information about fascinating people and anecdotes. Many funny and interesting stories make this book easy-to-read from the book-cursing scribes to Mark Twain's hysterical and witty comment to the librarian that requested him to defend his offensive book, Huckleberry Finn. He told her to put it next to the equally violent and offensive book, The Bible.

I'm not sure if anyone would find this book interesting except book lovers, book collectors, and librarians. Maybe an English teacher because libraries are linked with world literature. The last chapter is on famous libraries all over the world. I always drag my husband into libraries when we travel so I particularly liked this section. The book doesn't go into great depth but gives an overview. This made me want to read up on some of the famous people in history that ruled countries.

I did have problems with the author jumping forward and backwards in history with the narration. The book is not chronological and for my random brain I got lost as to where I was in time. In one chapter they were talking about the Boston Town Library from 1800-1850's and then at the end they wrote about the first public library in 1653. It would have been better to place the information on the first public library at the beginning of the chapter. Maybe the author used an unorganized timeline to be funny. The majority of librarians tend to be obsessive about organization.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Museum of Thieves

 All children in the city of Jewel are chained to a Blessed Guardian until their Separation Ceremony. This is for their own good and protection. On her way to the Separation Ceremony,  12-year-old Goldie, is in trouble again and is wearing the heavier, more cumbersome chains of punishment around her wrists for not obeying the Blessed Guardians. Goldie longs to be free and cannot wait for her chains to be cut, but while the ceremony is in process the man in charge of the Blessed Guardians, Fugelman, bursts into the auditorium announcing to the parents that there was a bombing that killed a child. Horrified, the adults stop the ceremony because they feel the children should not be separated from their protectors, the Blessed Guardians, with a Bomber on the loose.

Goldie cannot stand the thought of being so close to her freedom only to have it snatched away. She escapes from the ceremony and finds refuge in the Museum of Dunt while her parents are imprisoned for her running away. The museum is alive and keeps balance in the city. Goldie is taught to be a "keeper" of the museum with the help of another runaway named, Toadspit, a magical dog, and three adults. When the museum comes under attack, Goldie is the only one who can save it and the city.

The story is full of action and has some some strong characters. The plot has some incidents that are never explained such as who set off the bomb. I think it is Fugelman who wants to control the city but it is never confirmed. Also, why does the museum need Goldie as a Keeper? I think it's because she can withstand the wildness of it better than the others when they sing the First Song, but again, it never says exactly why. I also found it too unbelieveable when the levee broke that the people wouldn't run to higher ground for safety because the city had crippled them so much with the inability to think for themselves.  The citizens do show signs of disobeying the system with Goldie. I think survival instincts would have kicked in for them to run. I thought Fugelman was a one-dimensional villian and that the friction between him and his sister, The Protector, should have been explained more. Why was he jealous of her? There is a scene at the end of the book where she basically says good ridance to her brother who is probably dead and deserves it. She's a kind person and it was out of character. I would have shown her to be sad as well as angry. I think their relationship should have been fleshed out more and made more complicated.  But these were small incidents in a book that overall had fine pacing and a strong main character.

One reason Goldie is chosen as a Keeper is that she is a thief like Toadspit. The author tries to explain through the adult, Olga, that she doesn't mean thieving but being brave and standing up for what is right. She means civic duty or civic responsibility but uses the word thief. I thought Olga got preachy at one part about overprotective parents as well. It wasn't really necessary because the whole novel shows this. I feel like I'm nitpicking this book because I know students will like it, but I think all the little things make it an average read.

Reading Level 4.7

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys