Ship Breaker

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Nailer works light crew, climbing into the shells of the discarded oil tankers to gather copper wiring from ductwork.  His job requires him to be small, smart and loyal to his crew.  As a teenager, he knows that he will eventually outgrow the work and that his only hope is to get big enough to join heavy crew or to become a violent drug addict like his father.  When a huge hurricane strikes the Gulf Coast, Nailer discovers a wrecked clipper ship and a half-dead wealthy girl who owned her.  Now Nailer has found another option, to leave the Gulf Coast and his dangerous low-paying work and try to help this girl find her family and safety.  But nothing is a guarantee, especially with his father and others hunting them down.  Set in a future where oil is no longer used and the climate is wreaking vengeance, this book is a dynamic merger of adventure and questions about family and loyalty.

Teen readers of dark, dangerous fantasy will find a lot to love here.  Nailer lives in a world of filth, poverty and loyalty.  It is a society that is original and makes for a great setting against which to posit a hero like Nailer who has no idea he is a hero!  Just the creation of the Gulf Coast and the crews make for incredible world building, but Bacigalupi has created a world around it as well that is just as credible and detailed.  Violence is an important aspect of the book, binding characters together, used as punishment, and also to show bravery. 

The characters of the book are just as fascinating as the world itself and just as well built.  Nailer is a rat with a heart of gold.  He’s a disposable worker, unloved by his own father, who rises above all others in the book to heights of bravery and selflessness.  He grows believably throughout the book, but never stops being himself.  The other characters also show dimension and growth, except for his father, but there are reasons for that that you must discover for yourself.

This is a book that will leave you sweating with panic, heart pounding and pulse racing.  It is a very intense novel perfect for fans of The Hunger Games.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

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4 thoughts on “Ship Breaker

  1. This was one I didn’t quite get and didn’t like, although I can see the appeal. Thanks for your critical take on it; it helped me see why people liked it more than I did.

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