Chapters 1–6

In a world ravaged by climate change, Nailer is a teenage boy who salvages parts from old tankers. When he discovers a survivor on a grounded ship, he must decide whether to do his job or to rescue her.
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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. asbestos
    a fibrous amphibole
    Ancient asbestos fibers and mouse grit puffed up around him as the wire tore loose.
  2. phosphorescent
    emitting light without appreciable heat
    The LED glowpaint smeared on Nailer’s forehead gave a dim green phosphorescent view of the service ducts that made up his world.
  3. serrated
    notched like a saw with teeth pointing toward the apex
    He slashed the wire free with the serrated back of his work knife.
  4. desiccated
    lacking vitality or spirit; lifeless
    He crawled over desiccated rat bodies and their nests.
  5. quota
    a prescribed number
    Even his own long friendship with her didn’t shelter him when they were behind quota.
  6. expanse
    a wide and open space or area as of surface or land or sky
    From the height of the tanker’s deck, Bright Sands Beach stretched into the distance, a tarred expanse of sand and puddled seawater, littered with the savaged bodies of other oil tankers and freighters.
  7. prow
    the front part of a vessel
    Hulls lay like chunks of cleavered fish: a conning tower here, a crew quarters there, the prow of an oil tanker pointing straight up to the sky.
    Compare this word with the vocabulary words "fore" (Chapters 13-18) and "stern" (Chapters 19-25).
  8. massive
    imposing in size or bulk or solidity
    Replacements for the massive coal- and oil-burning wrecks that he and his crew worked to destroy all day long: gull-white sails, carbon-fiber hulls, and faster than anything except a maglev train.
  9. haul
    the quantity that was caught
    Everyone started unreeling sections of Nailer’s new haul, parting the lengths out amongst themselves.
  10. reverie
    an abstracted state of absorption
    Nailer jerked from his reverie.
  11. rudimentary
    being in the earliest stages of development
    With another series of grunts they heaved it over the ship’s warped decking and rolled it to where a rudimentary crane had been set up.
  12. insulation
    material reducing transmission of sound, heat or electricity
    He crimped the wire with his pliers and ripped off a sleeve of insulation, revealing the shining copper core.
  13. intricate
    having many complexly arranged elements; elaborate
    Their hands turned slick with work, and their crew tattoos shone like intricate knots on their flushed faces.
  14. feral
    wild and menacing
    He grinned, feral, and they all nodded back.
  15. tangle
    a twisted mass that is highly interwoven
    He ripped down more tangling wire.
  16. niche
    a position well suited to the person who occupies it
    In another year, he’d be too big for this work and Sloth would take his niche for sure.
  17. verge
    the limit beyond which something happens or changes
    The whole thing was on the verge of collapse.
  18. viscous
    having a relatively high resistance to flow
    He hit liquid, warm and viscous.
  19. cling
    hold on tightly or tenaciously
    He forced himself to breathe shallowly as he clung to the wire.
  20. indenture
    a contract binding one party into the service of another
    Sneaking it out bucket by bucket until he had enough to buy out his indenture and burn off his work tattoos.
  21. liberate
    grant freedom to; free from confinement
    It was a curiously liberating thought.
  22. surge
    a large sea wave
    The surge and swell of an oily sea.
    Grammatically, the example sentence uses "surge" and "swell" ("a long ocean wave that moves continuously without breaking") as nouns, but the sounds of the words and their meanings as verbs emphasize how the waves are moving up and down nonstop.
  23. torrent
    a violently fast stream of water or other liquid
    Torrents of water rushed down over them, filling the wood-cutting trails of the forest with their own muddy rivers.
  24. talisman
    a trinket thought to be a magical protection against evil
    Considered the possibilities of turning it into a talisman, a decoration to hang around his neck.
  25. gingerly
    with extreme care or delicacy
    Nailer moved gingerly, testing the stitching and cleaning work she’d done.
  26. tenacity
    persistent determination
    And say what you like about your father, you’ve got that Lopez tenacity.
  27. disown
    cast off
    Bapi had put his knife through her light crew tattoos himself, disowning her completely.
  28. swap
    exchange or give in exchange for
    The crew gathered around the bonfire, swapping drinks.
  29. hurtle
    move with or as if with a rushing sound
    Nailer tried to imagine what it would be like to stand on deck, hurtling across the waves, blasting through spray.
  30. acrid
    strong and sharp, as a taste or smell
    Nailer smiled bitterly in the acrid wind.
  31. cache
    a secret store of valuables or money
    Half the crews out here find some cache of oil or copper or whatever and none of them figure out what to do with it.
  32. vehement
    marked by extreme intensity of emotions or convictions
    “Not me,” Pearly said vehemently.
  33. conglomeration
    a sum total of many heterogeneous things taken together
    Richard Lopez was a rib-thin conglomeration of ropy muscle and burning energy.
  34. undertow
    a current that flows away from the shore after waves break
    Underneath the man’s tattooed features a storm was brewing, full of undertows and crashing surf and water spouts, the deadly weather that buffeted Nailer every day as he tried to navigate the coastline of his father’s moods.
    "Undertow" also means "inclination contrary to the strongest or prevailing feeling" and is similar to "undercurrent" which means "a subdued emotional quality underlying an utterance"--both are words that physically describe the movements of the sea (which is a large part of Nailer and his father's lives), but as used here, can also describe the movements of a person's moods.
  35. whittle
    cut small bits or pare shavings from
    The man had become more unpredictable as he worked less on the crews and worked more in the shadow world of the beaches, as his drugs whittled him down to a burning core of violence and hungers.
  36. implacable
    incapable of being appeased or pacified
    The storm rolled onto the coast with all the implacable power of an old-world tank.
    "Placate" means "to appease the anger of; pacify"--in comparing the power of the storm to an old-world tank, the example sentence is making it seem less like a force of nature and more like a man-made instrument of war that deliberately wants to destroy.
  37. inert
    unable to move or resist motion
    Nailer dragged all their possessions over to his father’s inert form.
  38. cumbersome
    difficult to handle or use because of size or weight
    He hefted the sheet, groaning at the cumbersome load.
  39. depleted
    no longer sufficient
    The chemicals in his brain were so depleted he wasn’t going to come awake even for the storm.
  40. maelstrom
    a powerful circular current of water
    A maelstrom of sand and copper screws and plastic shards swirled around him, the debris of the ship-breaking business ripping at his skin as he ran barefoot down the beach to Pima’s shack.
Created on October 11, 2013 (updated August 6, 2018)

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