When Nailer and Pima find Nita half-dead on the ship, they try to cut off her finger, but she stirs, prays, and pleads with them to let her live. This is a girl who clings to life, a girl with tenacity and grit, and it shows throughout the novel.
Nita's full name is Nita Chaudhury, though her father's name is Patel. Once she's ready, she's going to inherit his fortune, which is huge multinational corporation named Patel Global Transit. She's been groomed for the role—she's educated, clever, and worldly—and she has almost nothing in common with Nailer and Pima.
When Pima finds out that Nita is the daughter of the man who condones ship breaking and, indirectly, has contributed to the harshness of their lives on Bright Sands Beach, Nailer's pal grows incredibly angry. Nita has to prove that she's more than just a pretty face, and, fortunately—for her, Pima, and Nailer—she does.
Although Ship Breaker is a wee bit darker than Finding Nemo, it is a story about a father and child finding one another. In Nita's case, though, she has to escape some rather unscrupulous and unsavory characters intent on kidnapping her to use as leverage against her father. Does Nita give in, though? Nope. The girl has some serious backbone, for all she's a swank. This means that, among other things:
In other words, once she's out of her swank world, Nita adapts to her environment fairly quickly.
If Nita has two major flaws, it's her belief in the authority that her position as heiress lends her, along with her ignorance about what life is like for anyone who's not from the same class as she is. She's not a bad person; in fact, she proves her capabilities and loyalty to Nailer while they're working in Orleans for a couple weeks. But it takes her a while to get to this point. Check out what she says while travelling to Orleans:
Nita laughed again. "If you went to school, you'd know about it, too. Orleans city killers are famous. Every dummy knows about them." She stopped short. "I mean…"
Nailer wanted to hit her smug face. (16.62-63)
Oh, Nita. Nita, Nita, Nita. Of course Nailer never went to school—he's been too busy working as a ship breaker on a grimy rusted tanker just to scrape by, putting himself in danger every day and sometimes going hungry so he can just survive. School, dear Nita, is a luxury he can't afford, and shame on you for thinking that he's dumb because of his lack of opportunity. To Nita's credit, she apologizes. But an apology doesn't just wipe away her utter scorn for anyone from Nailer's economic and social class.
By the end of the book, though, Nita has lost her elitist attitude. Here we can see how much she's changed her tune:
Nailer had expected Nita's prissy distaste for the slums of Orleans to continue, but she adapted quickly, with a fierce attention to whatever Tool and Nailer taught. She threw herself into work, contributed her share, and didn't complain about what she ate or where she slept. She was still swank, and still did weird swank things, but she also showed a determination to carry her weight that Nailer was forced to respect. (18.3)
Nita knows that her position is precarious at best, and she has a survivalist's nature at heart; she's a living example of the old adage, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. When she and Nailer are escaping from the sinking Pole Star, she has to give Nailer a literal and figurative boost:
"Crew up, Nailer!" Lucky Girl shouted. "You think I'm going to pull your ass up here like a damn swank?" (24.45)
Gone is the chip on her shoulder. They're just two people trying to survive. We hope this egalitarian attitude will serve her well as she takes over the business from her father.