Well, things have gotten bad. Due to the evils of big corporations, the world is a dark and dangerous place; the climate changes mean that bigger, stronger hurricanes batter the changed coastline of a ruined America, where only a few slums remain for the barbarous refugees to grunge for a living. In the my latest Cybils 2010 YA Fantasy and Science Fiction finalist, Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker, the protagonist Nailer has it lucky: he hasn't yet grown to big for his child-labor job of sliding through narrow vents in ancient wrecks hunting for wires and other salvageable materials. His luck holds even when an accident almost kills him; he survives but another child in his work group moved too quickly to try to take his place and ends up thrown out to starve. Time for a party!
Yes, this world is too gritty to reward loyalty or tolerate betrayal, and Nailer's abusive and drug-addicted father doesn't take it kindly when the boy chooses his work mates over his family. When Nailer and his friend find a survivor on the newest shipwreck, they have to choose between following a long shot chance at riches or accepting that they too can kill to survive. Paolo Bacigalupi paints a world full of violence and greed, where corporations delight in grinding down the poor while creating half-men genetically forced into blind loyalty to their owner/employers. Nailer himself faces test of loyalty in many different ways -- can he betray his father? Does he trust his work crew? Can he trust Lucky Girl, the rich survivor that so obviously finds him barely human? Overall I found Nailer's world too grim for pleasure; I could guess plot points just by wondering what would put capitalism in the worst light and be most depressing for our hero.
I'd better hurry on my Cybils quest; next years nominations have already finished and the judging teams are preparing the list of the 2011 finalists. I have one more left in this category so I'll order it up from the library today. I'm not sure my seventh grader will get through this book; he tends to read more optimistic fare but I'll definitely leave it lying provocatively around.