Big Idea post which I think is really worth reading before you read the book. This is not a cheerful, happy book, it is a modern-day post-apocalyptic survival story. This is the story of what happens after we run out of cheap oil, global warming sets in, and the oceans rise. And it is about the people who will have to be coping with these things - the kids.
It is beautifully written, and because it is a young adult story with kids as the protagonists, they aren't sitting around bemoaning the world as it used to be - they are simply living in their world. And even though they can see how things used to be, and can imagine things being better, they have never experienced the ease of our lives, and so they are just coping - living their lives as best they can.
I really do like what Bacigalupi has done here. It would be really easy to have all the kids be good guys, and all the adults be bad guys, but he doesn't do that. None of the kids are perfect, and even when Nailer sets out to save the life of the girl he finds trapped on the boat, he has very good reasons for doing so - both logical and emotional - and even then he often questions this decision. He could so easily let her die and keep everything he can salvage from her ship. Instead he is aiming for a life that he almost can't even imagine - sailing on one of the beautiful white-sailed ships he sees on the horizon. But the struggle to get there is more than most people would have the strength for. In the end he persists, and you get to see the possibility of the entire world becoming ever so slightly a better place - someone in a position of power (potentially) has finally seen what life is really like for the folks at the bottom of the heap. Life is certainly looking up for Nailer, and probably even for the community he grew up in, although the cost hasn't been cheap.
This is not a happy story, although being written for kids it is not nearly as bleak and depressing as The Windup-Girl, but it is a very satisfying adventure. I would definitely recommend it, but it is the sort of book you probably want to read before handing it off to a young teenager.