Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Ship Breaker

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Published: May 1st, 2010 by Little, Brown

Number of Pages: 336

Rating: 3/5

Review Sent to Little, Brown*:

Ship Breaker is a fascinating story set in a dystopian world that relies too strongly on social unfairness and the unbalanced division of wealth and prosperity. These factors ensured the reader was infused with a Robin Hood-like yearning for the unfortunate and relatable Nailer to ultimately overcome the oppression of his ship breaker life. Full of adventure, daring, and characters that fully encompassed evil and good, Ship Breaker is a novel readers will appreciate for its honest views of human nature and the world.


I’ve had so much trouble determining how I feel about this book. I enjoyed it, yet it wasn’t that great. I was fascinated by it, yet I was bored. What the heck am I supposed to do with that?

I found that Bacigalupi’s style and voice weren’t precisely my cup of tea. He lost my interest in his descriptions, which were lengthy and a bit “stiff” at times, but he did well with dialogue and general banter between characters. I found the idea of the book endlessly interesting. The dystopian world and the total unfairness of the division of wealth created a terrifying and intriguing picture. I enjoyed learning more about the life the ship breakers lived and the immeasurable gap between the ship breakers and swanks.

Nailer was a decent main character. You respected him, you understood him, you sympathized with him, yet I felt that something crucial was missing in his personality. I didn’t see much of an individual in him. He was exactly what you’d expect, judging by the circumstances of his lifestyle. You could judge him by his cover and be spot-on. I enjoy feeling surprised when I find that a character is deeper or simply different than I had expected.

Nailer was born a ship breaker. With a father and a mother, as is usual, but now he’s alone with his abusive, high father and a crew. This, though, is enough.

That is, until he and his friend, Pima, discover some wicked scavenge (the left over copper and whatnot from shipwrecked boats), and a dead swank girl who’s not dead. Nailer and Pima soon discover that the girl might be more valuable than anything on the ship, which better be true, because Nailer gives up everything: his father’s favor, his home, his old belief system, just to return this Lucky Girl to her family.

Nita, aka Lucky Girl, was immensely likable, which made watching as Nailer sacrificed so much bearable. My favorite character, however, was Tool, a half-man, a mutated creature made of the best qualities of various animals. Most half-men, like dogs, are loyal to an owner, but Tool is surprisingly free from any such bond. As I read, I was eager to learn more about his history and the unlikely fact of his freedom.

I thought that the first half of the book dragged on. I couldn’t focus on the page. The second half was exponentially quicker-paced, and I zoomed through it quickly. And though I gave this book a 3/5, I’d definitely read a sequel, should Bacigalupi chose to write one.

Overall, I thought the most attention-grabbing factor of the book was the skewed future world that Nailer lives in. I was fascinated by the sad possibility, and the concept induced thoughts of how we can prevent such a future. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for food for thought, but if you’re searching for a page-turner, Ship Breaker should probably be put aside for later.

*I really appreciate the ARC!

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