Book Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi
Series: Ship Breaker, #1
Publication Date: May 1st 2010 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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 This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss.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.

Review Overview:

  • Bacigalupi is a fantastic world-builder; stellar descriptions and imagery
  • Felt disconnected from the main character because it was written in 3rd person POV
  • Makes you think

Initially, I had problems getting into SHIP BREAKER. Paolo Bacigalupi is, without a doubt, a fantastic world-builder, but the lack of background info about this world made it confusing. It took me a while to understand all the ship terms and figure out exactly what Nailer and friends were doing. However, after a few chapters, I found myself completely immersed in the world Bacigalupi had created. Bacigalupi’s descriptions were so vivid; I could definitely imagine all the cities of the past submerged in water. I can picture the landscape of what had become of the United States.

What prevented me from truly enjoying this book was the point of view that the novel was written in. Because it was written in third person, it was difficult to connect specifically with the main character, Nailer. I could certainly sympathize with Nailer, but I wasn’t able to empathize with him. I probably thought, “That sucks,” whenever Nailer got himself into another conundrum, but I really couldn’t put myself in his position.

SHIP BREAKER does make you think, which I loved. It made me question how we were using our natural resources, what we our doing to our environment, and how the world will end up in the future. The world in SHIP BREAKER is definitely not unlikely which makes it much more effective as a dystopian novel.

According to GoodReads, there will be a sequel to SHIP BREAKER. I’m not entirely sold on reading it at the moment, but I may change my mind in the future. Unfortunately, SHIP BREAKER was not as great as I thought it would be, but it was still a decent read. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it wasn’t worthy of winning a Printz (what do I know about those awards??) but for me, it really does not stand out against all the other dystopian novels out in the market.


  1. I completely agree with this review :) I loved the world-building was fantastic as well but thought Nailer’s characer was kinda weak. THinking back on it, it was like you said, the fact I couldn’t really connect with him b/c of the third person POV (Gah, I am rarely a fan of those).
    I don’t understand the Printz much either, because I’m 4 for 5 and honestly, the writing is solid.. not mind-blowing haha :P great review!

  2. I have this on my wishlist, but I think I’ll put off reading it for a while. I’ve heard a few other people single out the same problem you had with the MC and I need to have that connection. I’ll definitely still keep it in mind, though Thanks for the review!

  3. You lost me at ‘makes you think’ haha kidding :D

    I’ve heard such good things about this book I’m surprised it didn’t do it for you. I know what you mean about 3rd person POV it’s so hard to make the switch, I’m so used to first person now!

    1. Yeah, I really did think that I was going to love it… I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I used to think that 3rd person was the way to go but now, 1st person is my preference. :P

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