What I’m Reading: SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi

A fast-paced adventure that’s a little too close for comfort.

Summary from the inside jacket:

In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all its worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life.


I have a confession to make. This just might be my favorite dystopian-esque read since THE HUNGER GAMES. I certainly didn’t devour it as quickly as I did some other recent reads in the genre, but this book haunted me. I thought about it for days.

Maybe it was because I could feel the grime on my skin, smell the salt of the ocean, see the rust of the ships.  There is something incredibly eerie about a story that is both dark, grim and plausible. Sure, there aren’t ship breakers down in the Gulf yet, but there are some out in Bangladesh. They make their living the same way Nailer does, piece by piece, scrap by scrap, wire by wire.

Each scene, city, ship and beach in this story is so real you can practically hear the waves crashing in the distance. Bacigalupi also manages to squeeze a whole lot of technological detail into his book without it overwhelming the story. Never have I known so much about metals and ships and hydrofoil gearing. All this, coupled with the fast-paced action, cliff-hanger chapter endings, and impeccable world building makes this book a must read. Oh, and there’s also drowned cities, engineered humans and a phenomenal ship chase. From beginning to end, this book really is a “ride.”

Even with all the action, Bacigalupi manages to tackle an interesting (and much quieter) topic: family and loyalty. Nailer’s father is not a good man, but Nailer gives him chance after chance because they share blood. At the same time, Nailer also admits that he is “not his father.” While bonds of family and friendship are tested in this book, Nailer is constantly reminded that many people put themselves before others, especially in this sink-or-swim world. Nailer has to decide if he is one of them.

There’s a just little bit of romance in the novel, but it is the right amount for this story. I will say that I felt a bit distanced from the characters at times. This could be due to the third-person narrative. I wanted to be in Nailer’s head and instead I felt I was being told what he was thinking. But I will absolutely, without a doubt, pick up the sequel. This book made me want to research sea levels and oil consumption and how much a spool of copper wire might go for in comparison to a sheet of iron scrap.

As Nailer would say, “Blood and rust!” Go read this book.


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