Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book Review: Ship Breaker

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Release Date: May 1, 2010
Pages:  336
Read it in: 3 days

The Hook: A gritty, high-stakes adventure set in a futuristic world where oil is scarce but loyalty is scarcer…

Praise: “A riveting tale of adventure in a broken world… Ship Breaker is the best debut novel I’ve read in ages.”  ~Scott Westerfeld, author of Leviathan

Favorite Part: "He pushed open another door and crawled through... Warning signs said: SPEED MECHANICALS IN USE! WATCH HANDS AND LOOSE CLOTHING. Nailer was amused that he could actually make out the meanings now. He was going to drown, but hey, he could read."

Summary: In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota-- and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life… In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.

LC's Take: 

Wow, I don’t think I have ever been so quickly intrigued and caught up in a story I knew nothing about and that, honestly, didn’t even have a plot that sounded that interesting to me at first. And yet, from the very first couple of pages I was completely drawn into another world in some distant future—a raw, carnal, dog-eat-dog world that is as dangerous as it is beautiful-- with tropical beaches, blinding white sun and salty waters where clipper ships move like ghosts in the distance. The writing style captured my attention right away. (SIDE NOTE: Does anyone remember the computer game Riven? Because the backdrop for this book reminded me of the unforgettable imagery from that game I used to play in high school!)

Nailer- the main character- is a boy, around 14 years old (he doesn’t know his age himself) who lives out his life as a “ship breaker” on a wrecking crew in the tropical Gulf. Along with other kids his age, his job is to “scavenge,” crawling into the tight spots of giant oil tanker ”corpses” and slowly tearing them apart for scrap metal. Nailer’s world is full of uncertainty—you could strike it lucky and become richer than your wildest dreams from an oil find, or you could die of starvation in the rusty dark bowels of a dead ship you’re tearing apart. 

Here is what I really loved about Ship Breaker:
  • Bacigalupi paints pictures with words—you can feel the heat and dirt and grime that make up Nailer’s life. His descriptions are vivid and alive:
    • “Wherever the huge ships lay, scavenge gangs like Nailer’s swarmed like flies. Chewing away at iron meat and bones… Even at night, the wrecks glowed with work, people laboring by torchlight as they continued the steady job of disassembly. The ships showed as huge black shadows against the bright star points and the surge of the Milky Way above. The torch lights flickered, bobbing and moving. Sledge noise rang across the water. Comforting sounds of work and activity, the air tanged with the coal reek of smelters and the salt fresh breeze coming off the water. It was beautiful.” (p. 6, 40)
  • The characters are fully-developed and real—from Nailer’s abusive, amphetamine-drugged dad Richard Lopez, to Nita the spoiled yet beautiful and clever “Swank” that Nailer gambles his life on—the characters are just as vividly portrayed as the settings they’re placed in, and they  jump off the pages. I thought they were captured perfectly.
  • The plot of Ship Breaker is so good! Trust me, you will be totally caught up in Nailer’s story because the stakes are so high—either he wins completely, or he dies a terrible death—there’s no option in between. This keeps you on the edge of your seat till the very end.
  • Bacigalupi makes no attempt to water-down this gritty tale with a bunch of censored, P.C. writing—the language is very explicit. For me, I thought this made the book even better, because it makes it that much more real for the reader. However, if you are the squeamish type and don’t much like reading about outlaws “pig-opening” people and gutting them like fish, well… you might want to pick something more tamed-down!
LC’s Rating:
Ship Breaker presents a dystopian world full of adventure-- its primal, survival-of-the-fittest plot will have you totally captivated from beginning to end. Awesome book!


  1. I wasn't sure about reading this book but after reading your great review I'm sure this will be my next read :D

    Thanks for all the comments and I'm a new follower too!

  2. Thanks Vy! Yes, I really enjoyed this one, and it's nice to step outside the female heroine/female YA author box once in awhile too-- I mean, I love those kinds of books too but it's always nice to switch it up and have a male protagonist too! Happy reading :)

  3. Great review. I have heard a few good things on this one. Already have it on my list. I will have to try and get my hands on it soon. :0)

    Thanks for stoppin' by my blog today. You will be seeing me hanging out here too. :0)

  4. Tracy~ Thanks, glad you liked the review! I really did enjoy this one, and I found it to be a lot different than other YA that I have read lately... I recommend giving it a try! :)

  5. Hi my name is Selena I came across your blog because we share a passion. I love reading as well and I';'m glad I can read your blogs and get new ideas to pick up at the library. I'm new to blogging so I was wondering if you can follow me also. Thanks


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