Monday, June 6, 2011

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 326
Source of Book: Bought Hardcover based on many strong recommendations
Author's Website:
Awards: Printz Award 2011, National Book Award Nominee 2010

Goodreads Summary:
Set initially in a future shanty town in America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. 

When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she'll lead him to a better life. 

This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.
You need to read this book and you need to read it now! SHIP BREAKER is one of the more powerful books I've read in a long time. It is so clear to me why this was a National Book Award nominee. This is a smart book. It is beautifully written with vivid descriptions and raw emotion.  It was gripping from the very beginning and full of action: adventure on the high seas, evasive manuervering, hand-to-hand combat, and life or death situations.

Set in a rough world where people are fighting for the littlest scraps of money and food in order to survive, this book has fantastic, complicated characters who are put in horrifying situations of survival. The world that Nailer has grown up in, and the family he has to cope with, has created a strength, determination, and integrity of character rarely seen in one so young. He is a good boy who came from bad and his spirit hopes for better. I wanted to be Nailer's friend - or at least take him home to take care of him.

In his book, Paolo has created an evocative world touching on issues of oil use, poverty, big corporations, government, religion, abuse, addiction, class, luck, faith, family, and friendship. It's about loyalty, trust, hardship, work ethic, true meaning, earning respect, and fighting to take care of one's self.  It touches on important questions: How far would you go to survive? What would you do to fight for what's right? What would it take from you? Paolo does it all with such a deft hand that I never felt that I was being preached at, but instead felt that I was drawn into this world and pulling for the characters. 

SHIP BREAKER was heart-wrenching at times, but left me with a sense of hope. And, really, that's what I look for in really good books - it doesn't have to be a happy ending, but I need it to be a hopeful ending where I can feel confident that the character I've grown to love and care about is going to be okay in the end. And these particular characters in this books are ones who give me hope for people and morals as well.


  1. Nice review :) I finished Ship Breaker a week ago and still haven't written my review. I don't know why I'm having a hard time writing it lol. I'm glad you liked Ship Breaker so much!

  2. Mrs. Heise,

    I read Ship Breaker last summer, sharing sections with my remedial summer school frosh. Incredibly gripping.