Review: Shipbreaker

Posted: April 20, 2012 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Paolo Bacigalupi, Science Fiction, Young Adult

When I heard that Paolo Bacigalupi was going to follow up his award-winning debut novel, THE WINDUP GIRL (EBR Review), with a smaller YA book, I was a little disappointed. I loved THE WINDUP GIRL. It was rich and intense. It was complicated and diverse. It was gritty and cruel and I thought it was great. How on earth could Bacigalupi… wow this review is going to be hard to write if I keep having to write his last name. Let’s go with Paolo from now on shall we? Anyway, how was Paolo going to match those strengths in a YA novel? Turns out I needn’t have worried.

SHIPBREAKER (Amazon) is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that feels like it came straight out of the same world as THE WINDUP GIRL. The only differences were in perspective. Where THE WINDUP GIRL is focused on several characters in a larger setting, this story is more intimate following one viewpoint character.

The character, Nailer, was for me the highlight of the novel.

Let me tell you a bit about the book. Nailer is a small teen living out amongst a group of wrecked ships. He is part of a scavenging crew that goes into the ships and extracts valuable resources (Nailer’s job is extracting copper wiring). Nailer is afraid of becoming too large. Once he gets too big he won’t be able to fit in the small ducts of the ship anymore. If he becomes useless on his crew he has to find other work, or starve. On top of it all he is increasingly afraid of his abusive, alcoholic father. Basically it’s not a pretty world to live in.

SHIPBREAKER was a fun quick read, with characters and situations that stuck with me past when I put it down. If you liked Wind-up Girl, dive into this one.

OK, I just checked the product description for SHIPBREAKER on Amazon to see if I was going to give anything away about the book that wasn’t easily up for grabs. I’m not. Good.

So the story kicks in to full gear when Nailer comes across the wreck of a wealthy ship that has crashed on shore. He can either strip the boat for valuables, or he can rescue the young rich girl barely alive inside.

The book would be really rather depressing (and it’s no bright ray of sunshine to begin with) if Nailer left the girl to die and got rich off of the salvage. The end. It’s pretty obvious he’s going to try and save the girl. But here’s where SHIPBREAKER was really good. That decision. At the point in the story where Nailer is making that choice he is fighting in his head about what to do. His life is hard. Getting rich off of scavenge would be a good choice, an easy choice. His friend is even arguing it for him. And yet something in his past makes him choose something else. And it all seems totally believable. The actions and motivations were real and tough. It happens several more times over the course of the book, and through each choice you start to see how they are shaping Nailer and turning him more into the character he grows to be by the end. It was those choices and consequences that really helped this book shine. It didn’t feel like the choices were made because that’s what the story needed, but it was what the characters really decided to do. It felt believable.

To make a long story short (too late I think), I liked it. The book was a fun quick read, with characters and situations that stuck with me past when I put it down. The setting was interesting and new. In fact the world building seemed to keep going where THE WINDUP GIRL left off. Paolo’s vision of the future isn’t one I would look forward to living in, but it is a very well thought out place, and I enjoyed getting to see a bit more of it. If you liked THE WINDUP GIRL, this one should be right up your alley.

  • Recommended Age: 14+. There are some swears and it’s a tough gritty world out there.
  • Language: Yeah a bit. Not a TON but enough that I realized it was there a bit.
  • Violence: The world is a gritty place. There are some deaths and some violent scenes.
  • Sex: Mentioned a few times. Never shown or given much emphasis.


  • Cecelia says:

    I've had this one on my shelf for almost two years – I need to check it out (and I'm encouraged by the fact that you liked it). Nice review!

  • Aaron says:

    Is this book paced better than the Windup Girl? I couldn't finish the Windup Girl because nothing overly interesting happens for the first 150 pages or so.

    I tend to agree with the original review of the windup girl on this site from Steve the Bookstore Guy, but then I seem to like all the same books as Steve.

    • @Aaron – As well you should like everything I read!

      Windup Girl is super polarizing. Shawn (the reviewer for this books) and I have argued over Windup Girl. I understand why some people like it. The ideas are interesting. But man, I just didn't like it. That's why I let Shawn read and review this.

      The other thing is that, by nature, YA is almost forced into better pacing. Plus it is Bacigalupi's 2nd book. There is a lot here leaning in favor of Shipbreaker being better than his first novel.

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