Travel Reads: Ship Breaker

Set in a dystopic future where global climate change has caused rising ocean levels to flood much of the Gulf Coast of the U.S., Paolo Bacigalupi’s young adult novel Ship Breaker tells a story of choices, loyalty and the real meaning of family.


Nailer is a teen who works on the ship breaking yards of the Gulf Coast. What is ship breaking? You know all those oil tankers currently sailing about the Gulf of Mexico? Well, in this future they are wreaked all along the coast and big companies pay people to scavenge them for copper, oil and other resources. This is a dangerous job and crews that work together form blood oaths to watch each other’s backs.

Nailer nearly dies when he falls into a room full of oil and one of his crew breaks her blood oath, leaving him to die so she has a chance to take his place.

A day later a “city killer” hurricane causes a “swank” cruiser to beach. Now Nailer must make a choice: scavenge the ship for its wealth, or help the sole survivor who could lead him to a better life.

What Worked for Me

Ship Breaker is a well-told tale that develops three-dimensional characters and makes you think about the decisions you make in life. Bacigalupi develops a believable world with believable and likable characters.

Although I am not considered the target market for this book, which is roughly aged 14 to 21, I found myself looking forward to picking it up and reading more. I found it hard to put down.

I liked how he developed the internal conflicts that Nailer felt throughout the novel.

Also, the villain, Nailer’s dad, is down-right scary at times. He reminded me of some of the best villains from Disney films, such as Judge Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) and the queen from Snow White (1935).

The climax at the end is very well written. It made me lean forward in my seat, wondering how Nailer would survive.

What Didn’t Work for Me

My main concern with this book is the almost graphic violence. I know when I was 14, this book would have been a little too intense for me. So, I recommend that you keep the sensibilities of the reader in mind before you pick up or give this book to someone to read. If you or the intended reader can handle the idea of someone having their stomach slit and being strangled by their intestines, then go right ahead!

In Conclusion

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is a thoroughly enjoyable read with a few moments of semi-graphic violence. It is a well-told tale with deep meaning, engaging characters, and visceral locations. You can almost smell the oil and feel the chill of the storms.

SCORE: 4 out of 5 Palm Trees Possible

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NOTE: Although I received this book free to review, that did not affect my opinion of the book. Read past reviews of books I’ve received for free and you’ll know I don’t hold my punches.

Check out this conversation with Paolo Bacigalupi on the The Bat Segundo Show.

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About the author

As The Genre Traveler, Carma Spence loves to view the world through Genre-Coloured glasses. In other words, she sees the world through a lens of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, where trash cans can be Daleks in disguise and neighborhood forests can harbor faeries and sprites. Magic realism is real! Or at least you can choose to see the world that way to add to the fun and awe of life.