SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi


SHIP BREAKER follows Nailer, a boy who is still small enough to crawl through dangerous ducts and scavenge valuable materials from old world ships stranded on beaches in the tropics. A storm brings a new ship near the beach, rich with materials, but one girl survived the wreck. Nailer and his boss Pima rescue the girl, Nita, who is nicknamed Lucky Girl. Nita is on the run from her father’s enemies, and when they show up on the beach looking for her, Nailer and Tool the half-man help her escape. Nailer’s abusive father follows them into the city, having teamed up with Nita’s enemies. When Nita’s enemies capture her, Nailer seeks out those who are loyal to her, going to work aboard a ship where he is taught to shoot and to read. He also helps set a trap for Nita’s enemies to rescue her, leading them back to the beach where Nailer lives. Nailer crawls into the enemy ship, facing and killing his father, and rescuing Nita. Nailer is able to leave home with Pima and her mother, the people he considers family, on Nita’s ship and to give them all a better life.


Nailer is the main and most sympathetic character. He has had a hard life, but it hasn’t turned him into a violent or greedy person like the others in his village. He has learned to work hard and not cause trouble, and it isn’t until he sees Nita’s wealth that he understands his own poverty, which is exactly how a boy his age would understand the world. His experiences help him to rethink the world and his place in it and to hope for more than the desperate, grasping life that waits for him back home.

The dystopian plot is engaging and plausible. Nailer’s confrontation with his father is inevitable, but Nailer’s willingness to actually kill him was uncertain until the moment he does so. The dialogue, mood, and organization of the novel are all natural, never detracting from the story. The book is set in a tropical future, in a landscape remade by city-killing hurricanes, the result of climate change.

The main theme is common in young adult literature: family is who you choose, who stands with you and protects you, and sometimes people who share your DNA don’t qualify. The ship breakers’ work is also reminiscent of modern sweatshop practices. Whether intentionally or not, their story stands as a criticism of any society like ours, in which some live in luxury while others starve.

This book does an impressive job of avoiding gender stereotypes, including women and men in every rank and role. The main character is male, of course, and he is surrounded by strong female characters.


•2011: Won the Michael L. Printz Award

•2011: Won the Locus Award For Best Young Adult Book

•2010: Listed in Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of the Year for Fiction

•2011: Listed in YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults

•2011: Listed in ALA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults

•2010: Listed in’s Best of Books of 2010

•Junior Library Guild Selection


“Vivid, brutal, and thematically rich, this captivating title is sure to win teen fans for the award-winning Bacigalupi.” — Booklist, starred review

“Bacigalupi’s cast is ethnically and morally diverse, and the book’s message never overshadows the storytelling, action-packed pacing, or intricate world-building.” — Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

Related Books 

THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner

PURE by Julianna Baggott

THE DROWNED CITIES by Paolo Bacigalupi


Imagine a future world that differs in one or two pivotal ways from the present. What does that future world look like? How are the inhabitants similar to us? How are they different?


Bacigalupi, Paolo. 2010. SHIP BREAKER. New York: Little, Brown, and Co.

Lumania. “Ship-106566_1280.” From Pixabay. Accessed October 22, 2015.

Wind Up Stories. “Ship Breaker.” Accessed October 22, 2015.


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