Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

In a dirty near future where children risk their lives scavenging scrap metal in order eat one more day, Nailer is a ship breaker. He and his crew swarm over long abandoned rusted oil tankers hunting for copper wiring and hidden caches of black gold. His life is mean, hard and cheap and every day that he dives back into the depths of the old ships, he knows he may not make it back. But what is his alternative? His mother is a distant memory, while his sociopathic, drug addicted father is so terrifying Nailer would rather spend the night in a pitch-black hold than go back to their shabby little beach shack. Ship breakers pray for that one big lucky break, and one day, Nailer gets his. A devastating hurricane, a “city killer” levels the beach where he lives and works, bringing with it a marooned clipper ship full of valuable salvage. On board, he discovers a “swank,” a rich, beautiful teenage girl who is dripping with gold and nearly dead. His decision to save her instead of murder her for her jewels changes his life irreparably. Suddenly he is thrust into a bewildering world of corporate corruption, high-speed chases and brutal violence. But his hard upbringing serves him well–if Nailer knows one thing, it’s how to survive. It is only when his murderous father appears seeking revenge for what he believes is Nailer’s betrayal does the intrepid man-boy falter. His father is worse than any monster Nailer has faced so far. Does he have the courage to fight the one person faster and smarter than himself? This dystopian environmental thriller is magnificent in its pacing, characterization and world building. When Nailer arrived in the drowned city of Orleans, I got a shiver down my spine imagining that rich metropolis abandoned to hurricanes and left to turn into a rotting hulk. While the action is fast and furious, sci-fi master Paolo Bacigalupi doesn’t sacrifice an iota of characterization. Nailer and his supporting cast of canine half-men, courageous ship captains and crafty orphan naïfs come to life on the page—I felt as though I were reading about a present that was instead of a future that may be. Imagine all that in a book that clocks in under 350 pages. I’m getting pretty tired of big books that seem bloated with unnecessary detail, but no worries here, THIS Ship is t-i-g-h-t. Batten down the hatches, lift anchor and prepare to set sail with Nailer on a gritty adventure of a lifetime!

9 thoughts on “Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

  1. I gave it 4/5 stars – I think what cost it a star was that while I loved the book, it wasn’t transformative (in the way that “Hunger Games” was). Nailer was definitely a Real Boy, and there were many moments that made me wonder if this was a vision of our future – just look at what’s happening down there now, with the oil spill!

  2. Jen,

    Yes! Great review. I SO agree with you on this one. It is glorious to find a sf author that respects his teen audience. Every element was so well crafted instead of relying simply on a dystopian setting to carry the book. Characterization was especially outstanding and the thematic issues were brilliantly handled without sacrificing suspense and story. LOVED this book!!!!

  3. Looks like an awesome book! I’ll have to see if Barnes and Noble has it so I can take it on my trip!

  4. I got an advanced copy of this book and gave it to a teen boy to see what he thought. He LOVED it and then a few of my book group girls decided they wanted to read it to and once again LOVED it.

  5. Lynn, this will probably be one of my top books of the year. Really, really solid. Thanks for commenting!

  6. I just finished this book this morning and wow, how timely can you get, with the hurricanes, oil tankers, half-men (ok, that’s fabricated, hopefully). All of the characters were so real and many were so terrifyingly evil. Great first YA novel. What an adventure.

  7. I initially wasn’t going to read this book, but the allure of walking past it on the shelf when putting away YA books became too much. I absolutely don’t regret picking it up and can’t believe I had to set it down with under 40 pages to go because I had to come to work. Bacigalupi (yes, I did spell that without looking it up) wrote one of my all time favorite scifi short story collections and this is quickly becoming one of my top books of 2010. Really good.

  8. I almost didn’t read this book- but I’m really glad I did! This has to be one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Its truly memorable and unique. I really enjoyed it, so thanks for this review!

  9. And thank you for recommending the book. Dark is a good deisvcptire word for the book, but not dark in a morbid way. I listened to this on audio which took away a lot of the stuff I usually don’t like in this genre. The story still takes place in a disturbing world, and the possibilities of that world coming true are frightening. However, the main character gave me hope that, should the world become like this, their will still be people courageous enough to make it.

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