Ship Breaker

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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 it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could ...

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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 it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. . . .

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.

Winner of the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
SF novelist Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl) makes a stellar YA debut with this futuristic tale of class imbalance on the Gulf Coast. Teenage Nailer scavenges ships with his crewmates, eking out a poverty-filled existence while avoiding dangers that range from giant “city killer” hurricanes to his vicious, drug-addicted father. When a storm strands a beautiful shipping heiress on the beach (earning her the nickname “Lucky Girl”), Nailer manages both to infuriate members of his camp (including his father) and to become embroiled in upper-class trade disputes that he barely comprehends. As Nailer and Lucky Girl escape toward the drowned ruins of New Orleans, they witness rampant class disparity on individual and international levels (tribes whose lands were flooded have taken to the seas as pirates, attacking multinational shipping firms). Bacigalupi's cast is ethnically and morally diverse, and the book's message never overshadows the storytelling, action-packed pacing, or intricate world-building. At its core, the novel is an exploration of Nailer's discovery of the nature of the world around him and his ability to transcend that world's expectations. Ages 12-up. (May)
From the Publisher
Praise for Ship Breaker
A Michael L. Printz Award Winner
A National Book Award Finalist
A VOYA 2010 Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers Book
A Rolling Stone 40 Best YA Novels Book
"Bacigalupi's future earth is brilliantly imagined and its genesis anchored in contemporary issues...The characters are layered and complex, and their almost unthinkable actions and choices seem totally credible. Vivid, brutal, and thematically rich, this captivating title is sure to win teen fans for the award-winning Bacigalupi." —Booklist (starred review)

"Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl) makes a stellar YA debut with this futuristic tale of class imbalance on the Gulf Coast...Bacigalupi's cast is ethnically and morally diverse, and the book's message never overshadows the storytelling, action-packed pacing, or intricate world-building." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

VOYA - KaaVonia Hinton-Johnson
Nailer, a teenager living in the American gulf coast in the distant future, has a dangerous, low-paying job as a ship breaker. Small and nimble, he puts his life on the line daily while scavenging ships for copper wiring from oil tankers to fuel corporate greed, while Nailer and his gang struggle to afford food, shelter, and clothing, not to mention sufficient protective work gear. Nailer's home life is bleak: his mother is dead and his father is addicted to crystal slide and abusing his son. When Nailer and his friend Pima discover an abandoned ship filled with valuables, it seems they have found an escape route. But Nailer's conscience gets in the way when he realizes that the ship's owner, a beautiful teenage girl, is still alive and needs his help. In his first book for young adults, Bacigalupi, an award-winning novelist, has created a dystopia where loyalty, integrity, and warmth seem to be slipping away, but class consciousness is still prevalent. From the very beginning, there is trouble, warning readers to hold on because scene after scene will be filled with adventure, fighting, murder, and desperation. Librarians should definitely add this book to science fiction collections. Teens will not be disappointed. Reviewer: KaaVonia Hinton-Johnson
Children's Literature - Patrice Russo Belotte
When fate intertwines with desperation and luck, the outcome can be both a curse and a blessing. In an advanced world, where huge cities have been sunken to the depths of the oceans, humanity thrives on luck and self preservation. In this twisted new world, Nailer has suffered tremendously since the death of his mother, watching his father become a dangerous, reckless alcoholic. Faced with no other choice but to follow in the footsteps of the one man with the strength to kill him, Nailer dedicates his survival to breaking down and stripping rotting oil tankers. Constantly overwhelmed by making quota, Nailer crawls into the deepest bowels of the decrepit ships to scavenge for wire for ungrateful bosses. Fate carries him through a near-death experience thwarted by a coworker, but refuses to leave his side as he narrowly escapes his menacing father and a massive hurricane that hits the Gulf Coast. Upon searching the beach after the destruction of the hurricane, Nailer finds a washed-up clipper ship full of enough silver to seriously change his luck for good. However, the ship holds one survivor, a lone girl who claims to be the heiress to a major shipping company. Desperate to forgo the life his father has doomed him for, he resolves to save the girl and help her find her father's alliances up the coast. The sincere hope for a better life fuels his dedication to help the heiress, despite the incessant bad luck that follows him at every turn. Reviewer: Patrice Russo Belotte
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Along a devastated U.S. Gulf Coast in a sci-fi future that includes half dog/half man creatures, teen boy Nailer must work as a ship breaker salvaging anything valuable on dangerous oil tanker wrecks. Other risks include an abusive, drug-crazed father, unemployment when he grows bigger, and flimsy shelter from ferocious storms. After one hurricane's onslaught, he and friend Pima discover Nita Patel, a rich girl almost drowned in her futuristic clipper ship. When his father threatens the girl and wants to ransom her or accept money to turn her over to her father's enemies, Nailer and Nita escape by hopping a train accompanied by Tool, an unusually independent dog/man. The three go to Orleans (no longer called New), a broken down relic of a city, and hope that a trustworthy captain from the Patel Company will show up. When Nailer's dad kidnaps Nita, the boy faces a final showdown with his father to free her. Joshua Swanson narrates Paolo Bacigalupi's fast-paced novel (Little, Brown, 2010), winner of the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults, with steady, dramatic intensity and enlivens characters with admirable vocal variety. The action and adventures are exciting, but occasionally quite bloody. Even more distressing are the harsh conditions faced by these youthful salvagers, much like contemporary third-world children. With an interesting mix of fact and fantasy, this title offers excellent potential for conversations on international child welfare issues.—Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—A fast-paced postapocalyptic adventure set on the American Gulf Coast. Nailer works light crew; his dirty, dangerous job is to crawl deep into the wrecks of the ancient oil tankers that line the beach, scavenging copper wire and turning it over to his crew boss. After a brutal hurricane passes over, Nailer and his friend Pima stumble upon the wreck of a luxurious clipper ship. It's filled with valuable goods—a "Lucky Strike" that could make them rich, if only they can find a safe way to cash it in. Amid the wreckage, a girl barely clings to life. If they help her, she tells them, she can show them a world of privilege that they have never known. But can they trust her? And if so, can they keep the girl safe from Nailer's drug-addicted father? Exciting and sometimes violent, this book will appeal to older fans of Scott Westerfeld's "Uglies" series (S & S) and similar action-oriented science fiction.—Hayden Bass, Seattle Public Library, WA
Kirkus Reviews
A gritty teen betrays his father and flees his grim existence in a post-global-warming Gulf Coast village to protect a young woman he barely knows in this gripping futuristic thriller. Fifteen-year-old Nailer works on the "light crew" as a ship breaker, salvaging metals from abandoned oil tankers. Nailer's vicious father routinely beats him. In this violent world where people do anything for money, Nailer's future seems bleak until he discovers Nina, the wealthy, attractive survivor of a shipwreck. Rather than kill Nina and steal the salvage, Nailer opts to save her, triggering a harrowing journey to the submerged cities of Orleans to find people loyal to Nina. As Nailer experiences brutal betrayals, he relies on his wits and learns the people worth calling family are the ones who "[cover] your back.... Everything else [is] just so much smoke and lies." In Bacigalupi's defiled, depressing landscape populated by mercenary humans and mechanical dog-men, Nailer's loyalty offers hope. Told in the third person, this stark, surreal story sends an alarm to heed the warning signs of climate change or suffer a similar fate. (Science fiction. 12 & up)
Mary Quattlebaum
…this gritty, tautly paced novel will rivet readers eager to learn both the fate of the young ship breaker and the reason for the world's grim collapse. Memorable characters add pith and spirit…
—The Washington Post
starred review Booklist
* "Vivid, brutal, and thematically rich."
The Horn Book
* "This thriller will grab and keep readers' attentions as Nailer and Nita 'crew up' in their fight to survive."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316056212
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 5/1/2010
  • Pages: 326
  • Sales rank: 454,342
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: HL690L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Paolo Bacigalupi
Paolo Bacigalupi is a rising star in the science fiction community having just won the Nebula award for The Windup Girl. He is also the winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best science fiction short story and two Locus Awards for best collection and best novelette. Paolo lives in western Colorado with his wife and son. Ship Breaker is his first novel for young adults.
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First Chapter

Ship Breaker

By Bacigalupi, Paolo

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2010 Bacigalupi, Paolo
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316056212


NAILER CLAMBERED THROUGH a service duct, tugging at copper wire and yanking it free. Ancient asbestos fibers and mouse grit puffed up around him as the wire tore loose. He scrambled deeper into the duct, jerking more wire from its aluminum staples. The staples pinged about the cramped metal passage like coins offered to the Scavenge God, and Nailer felt after them eagerly, hunting for their dull gleam and collecting them in a leather bag he kept at his waist. He yanked again at the wiring. A meter’s worth of precious copper tore loose in his hands and dust clouds enveloped him.

The LED glowpaint smeared on Nailer’s forehead gave a dim green phosphorescent view of the service ducts that made up his world. Grime and salt sweat stung his eyes and trickled around the edges of his filter mask. With one scarred hand, he swiped at the salty rivulets, careful to avoid rubbing off the LED paint. The paint itched and drove him crazy, but he didn’t relish finding his way back out of the mazelike ducts in blind blackness, so he let his forehead itch and again surveyed his position.

Rusty pipes ran ahead of him, disappearing into darkness. Some iron, some steel—heavy crew would be the ones to deal with that. Nailer only cared about the light stuff—the copper wiring, the aluminum, the nickel, the steel clips that could be sacked and dragged out through the ducts to his light crew waiting outside.

Nailer turned to continue down the service passage, but as he did he banged his head on the duct ceiling. The noise from his collision echoed loud, as if he were sitting inside a Christian church bell. Dust cascaded into his hair. Despite the filter mask, he started coughing as powder leaked in around the poorly sealed edges. He sneezed, then sneezed again, eyes watering. He pulled the mask away and wiped his face, then pressed it back over his mouth and nose, willing the stickum to seal but not holding out much hope.

The mask was a hand-me-down, given to him by his father. It itched and never sealed quite right because it was the wrong size, but it was all Nailer had. On its side, faded words said: DISCARD AFTER 40 HOURS USE. But Nailer didn’t have another, and no one else did either. He was lucky to have a mask at all, even if the microfibers were beginning to shred from repeated scrubbings in the ocean.

Sloth, his crewgirl, made fun of him whenever he washed the mask, asking why he even bothered. It just made the hellish duct work hotter and more uncomfortable. There was no point, she said. Sometimes he thought she was right. But Pima’s mother told him and Pima to use the masks no matter what, and for sure there was a lot of black grime in the filters when he immersed them in the ocean. That was the black that wasn’t in his lungs, Pima’s mother said, so he kept on with the mask, even though he felt like he was smothering every time he sucked humid tropic air through the clogged breath-wet fibers.

A voice echoed down into the duct. “You got the wire?”

Sloth. Calling in from where she waited outside.

“Almost done!” Nailer scrambled a little farther into the duct, ripping more staples, hurriedly yanking extra copper loose. The duct’s passage went on, but he had enough. He slashed the wire free with the serrated back of his work knife.

“We’re good!” he shouted.

Sloth’s acknowledging shout echoed back. “Clear!”

The wire whipped away from him, slithering through the crawlspaces, raising dust clouds as it moved. Far down the maze of ducts, Sloth was cranking away at a winding drum, sweat bright on her skin, blond hair pasted slick to her face as she sucked the wire out like a rice noodle from a bowl of Chen’s soup ration.

Nailer took his knife and hacked Bapi’s light crew code above the place where he had clipped the wire. The symbol matched the swirling tattoos on Nailer’s cheeks, the labor marks that gave him a right to work the wrecks under Bapi’s supervision. Nailer took out a bit of powdered paint and spit on it, mixing it in his palm, before smearing it over the mark. Now, even from a distance, his scratches gave off an iridescent glow. He used his finger and the remaining paint to write a string of memorized numerals below the symbol: LC57-1844. Bapi’s permit code. No one else was competing for this stretch right now, but it was good to mark the territory.

Nailer gathered the rest of the aluminum staples and scuttled back through the ducting on hands and knees, skirting weak points where the metal wasn’t well supported, listening to his own echoes and thumps and ringing taps against the steel as he hustled out, all his senses testing for signs that the ducts might break.

His little phosphor LED showed the dust snake slither where the copper cables had gone before him. He crawled over desiccated rat bodies and their nests. Even here, in the belly of an old oil tanker, there were rats, but these ones had died a long time ago. He crawled over more bones, small ones that came from cats and bits of birds. Feathers and fluff floated in the air. This close to the outside world, the access ducts were a graveyard for all sorts of lost creatures.

Ahead, sunlight showed, a glaring brightness. Nailer squinted as he clawed toward the light, thinking that this was what rebirth must be like for the Life Cult, this climbing toward blazing clean sunshine, and then he spilled out of the duct and onto hot steel decking.

He tore off his mask, gasping.

Bright tropic sunlight and ocean salt breezes bathed him. All around, sledgehammers rang against iron as swarms of men and women clambered over the ancient oil tanker, tearing it apart. Heavy crews peeled away iron panels with acetylene torches and sent them wafting off the sides like palm leaves, crashing to the beach sands below, where more crews dragged the scavenge above high tide. Light crews like Nailer’s tore at the ship’s small fittings, stripping copper, brass, nickel, aluminum, and stainless steel. Others hunted for hidden petrol and ship oil pockets, bucketing out the valuable fluid. An ant’s nest of activity, all dedicated to rendering this extinct ship’s bones into something usable for a new world.

“Took you long enough,” Sloth said.

She hammered at their spool’s securing clips, releasing it from the winding spindle. Her pale skin gleamed in the sunlight, her own swirling work tattoos almost black against the flush of her cheeks. Sweat ran down her neck. Her blond hair was chopped short, much like his own, to keep it from catching in the thousands of crevices and whirling bits of machinery that studded their work place.

“We’re in deep,” Nailer said. “Plenty of service wiring, but it takes a long time to get to it.”

“You always got an excuse.”

“Quit complaining. We’ll make quota.”

“We better,” Sloth said. “Bapi’s saying there’s another light crew buying scavenge rights.”

Nailer made a face. “Big surprise.”

“Yeah. This was too good to last for long. Gimme a hand.”

Nailer got on the other side of the spool. They lifted it from its spindle, grunting. Together, they tipped the spool sidewise and let it fall to the rusted deck with a clang. Shoulder to shoulder, they leaned into the weight, legs flexing, teeth gritted.

The spool slowly began to roll. Nailer’s bare feet burned against the sun-blasted decking. The cant of the ship made for hard pushing, but under their combined effort, the spool slowly rumbled forward, crunching over blistered preservative paint and loosened metal deck plates.

From the height of the tanker’s deck, Bright Sands Beach stretched into the distance, a tarred expanse of sand and puddled seawater, littered with the savaged bodies of other oil tankers and freighters. Some were completely whole, as if crazy sea captains had simply decided to steer the kilometer-long ships onto the sand and then walked away. Others were flayed and stripped, showing rusty iron girder bones. Hulls lay like chunks of cleavered fish: a conning tower here, a crew quarters there, the prow of an oil tanker pointing straight up to the sky.

It was as if the Scavenge God had come amongst the ships, slashing and chopping, dicing the huge iron vessels into pieces, and then left the corpses scattered carelessly behind. And wherever the huge ships lay, scavenge gangs like Nailer’s swarmed like flies. Chewing away at iron meat and bones. Dragging the old world’s flesh up the beach to the scrap weighing scales and the recycling smelters that burned 24-7 for the profit of Lawson & Carlson, the company that made all the cash from the blood and sweat of the ship breakers.

Nailer and Sloth paused for a moment, breathing hard, leaning against the heavy spool. Nailer wiped the sweat out of his eyes. Far out on the horizon, the oily black of the ocean turned blue, reflecting sky and sun. White caps foamed. The air around Nailer was hazed with the black work of shoreline smelters, but out there, beyond the smoke, he could see sails. The new clipper ships. Replacements for the massive coal- and oil-burning wrecks that he and his crew worked to destroy all day long: gull-white sails, carbon-fiber hulls, and faster than anything except a maglev train.

Nailer’s eyes followed a clipper ship as it sliced across the waters, sleek and fast and completely out of reach. It was possible that some of the copper on his spool would eventually sail away on a ship like that, first hauled by train to the Orleans, then transferred to a clipper’s cargo hold, where it would be carried across the ocean to whatever people or country could afford the scavenge.

Bapi had a poster of a clipper ship from Libeskind, Brown & Mohanraj. It connected to his reusable wall calendar and showed a clipper with high-altitude parasails extended far above it—sails that Bapi said could reach the jet streams and yank a clipper across smooth ocean at more than fifty-five knots, flying above the waves on hydrofoils, tearing through foam and salt water, slicing across the ocean to Africa and India, to the Europeans and the Nipponese.

Nailer stared at the distant sails hungrily, wondering at the places they went, and whether any of them were better than his own.

“Nailer! Sloth! Where the hell have you been?”

Nailer jerked from his reverie. Pima was waving up at them from the tanker’s lower deck, looking annoyed.

“We’re waiting for you, crewboy!”

“Boss girl on the prowl,” Sloth muttered.

Nailer grimaced. Pima was the oldest of them, and it made her bossy. Even his own long friendship with her didn’t shelter him when they were behind quota.

He and Sloth turned their attention back to the spool. With another series of grunts they heaved it over the ship’s warped decking and rolled it to where a rudimentary crane had been set up. They hitched the spool to rusted iron hooks, then grabbed the crane cable and jumped aboard the spool as it descended, swaying and spinning to the lower deck.

Pima and the rest of the light crew swarmed around them as they hit bottom. They unclipped the spool and rolled it over to where they’d set up their stripping operation near the oil tanker’s prow. Lengths of discarded insulation from the electrical wire lay everywhere, along with the gleaming rolls of copper that they’d collected, stacked in careful lines, and marked with Bapi’s light crew claim mark, the same swirled symbol that scarred all their cheeks.

Everyone started unreeling sections of Nailer’s new haul, parting the lengths out amongst themselves. They worked quickly, accustomed to one another and the labor: Pima, their boss girl, taller than the rest and filling out like a woman, black as oil and hard as iron. Sloth, skinny and pale, bones and knots of knees and dirty blond hair, the next candidate for duct-and-scuttle work when Nailer got too big, her pale skin almost permanently sunburned and peeling. Moon Girl, the shade of brown rice, whose nailshed mother had died with the last run of malaria and who worked light crew harder than anyone else because she’d seen the alternative, her ears and lips and nose decorated with scavenged steel wire that she’d driven through her flesh in the hope that no one would ever want her the way they’d wanted her mother. Tick-tock, nearsighted and always squinting at everything around him, almost as black as Pima but nowhere near as smart, fast with his hands as long as you told him what do with them, and he never got bored. Pearly, the Hindu who told them stories about Shiva and Kali and Krishna and who was lucky enough to have both a mother and a father who worked oil scavenge; black hair and dark tropic skin and a hand missing three fingers from an accident with the winding drum.

And then there was Nailer. Some people, like Pearly, knew who they were and where they came from. Pima knew her mother came up from the last of the islands across the Gulf. Pearly told everyone who would listen that he was 100 percent Indian—Hindu Marwari through and through. Even Sloth said that her people were Irish. Nailer was nothing like that. He had no idea what he was. Half of something, a quarter of something else, brown skin and black hair like his dead mother, but with weird pale blue eyes like his father.

Pearly had taken one look at Nailer’s pale eyes and claimed he was spawned by demons. But Pearly made things up all the time. He said Pima was Kali reincarnated—which was why her skin was so black, and why she was so damn mean when they were behind quota. Even so, the truth was that Nailer shared his father’s eyes and his father’s wiry build, and Richard Lopez was a demon for sure. No one could argue that. Sober, the man was scary. Drunk, he was a demon.

Nailer unwound a section of wire and squatted down on the blazing deck. He crimped the wire with his pliers and ripped off a sleeve of insulation, revealing the shining copper core.

Did it again. And again.

Pima squatted beside him with her own length of wire. “Took you long enough to bring out this load.”

Nailer shrugged. “Nothing’s close in anymore. I had to go a long way to find it.”

“That’s what you always say.”

“You want to go into the hole, you can.”

“I’ll go in,” Sloth volunteered.

Nailer gave her a dirty look. Pearly snorted. “You don’t have the sense of a half-man. You’d get lost like Jackson Boy and then we’d get no scavenge at all.”

Sloth made a sharp gesture. “Grind it, Pearly. I never get lost.”

“Even in the dark? When all the ducts look the same?” Pearly spat toward the edge of the ship. Missed and hit the rail instead. “Crews on Deep Blue III heard Jackson Boy calling out for days. Couldn’t find him, though. Little licebiter finally just dried up and died.”

“Bad way to go,” Tick-tock commented. “Thirsty. In the dark. Alone.”

“Shut up, you two,” Moon Girl said. “You want the dead to hear you calling?”

Pearly shrugged. “We’re just saying Nailer always makes quota.”

“Shit.” Sloth ran a hand through sweaty blond hair. “I’d get twenty times the scavenge Nailer gets.”

Nailer laughed. “Go on in, then. We’ll see if you come out alive.”

“You already filled the spool.”

“Tough grind for you, then.”

Pima tapped Nailer’s shoulder. “I’m serious about the scavenge. We had downtime waiting for you.”

Nailer met Pima’s eyes. “I make quota. You don’t like my work, then go in yourself.”

Pima pursed her lips, annoyed. It was an empty suggestion, and they both knew it. She’d gotten too big, and had the scabs and scars on her spine and elbows and knees to prove it. Light crew needed small bodies. Most kids got bounced off the crew by the time they hit their midteens, even if they starved themselves to keep their size down. If Pima weren’t such a good crew boss, she’d already be on the beach, hungry and begging for anything that came her way. Instead, she had another year, maybe, to bulk up enough to compete against hundreds of others for openings in heavy crew. But her time was running out, and everyone knew it.

Pima said, “You wouldn’t be so cocky if your dad wasn’t such a whip-wire. You’d be in the same position as me.”

“Well, that’s one thing I can thank him for, then.”

If his father was any indication, Nailer would never be huge. Fast, maybe, but never big. Tick-tock’s dad claimed that none of them would grow that big anyway, because of the calories they didn’t eat. Said that people up in Seascape Boston were still tall, though. Had plenty of money, and plenty of food. Never went hungry. Got fat and tall…

Nailer had felt his belly up against his spine enough times that he wondered what it would be like to have so much food. Wondered how it would feel to never wake in the middle of the night with his teeth chewing on his lips, fooling himself into thinking that he was about to eat meat. But it was a stupid fantasy. Seascape Boston sounded a little too much like Christian Heaven, or the way the Scavenge God promised a life of ease, if you could just find the right offering to burn with your body when you went to his scales.

Either way, you had to die to get there.

The work went on. Nailer stripped more wire, tossing the junk insulation over the ship’s side. The sun beat down on everyone. Their skins gleamed. Salt sweat jewels soaked their hair and dripped into their eyes. Their hands turned slick with work, and their crew tattoos shone like intricate knots on their flushed faces. For a little while they talked and joked but gradually fell silent, working the rhythm of scavenge, building piles of copper for whoever was rich enough to afford it.

“Boss man coming!”

The warning call came up from the waters below. Everyone hunkered down, looking busy, waiting to see who would appear at the rail. If it was someone else’s boss, they could relax—


Nailer grimaced as their crew boss clambered up over the rail, huffing. His black hair gleamed, and his potbelly made it hard for him to climb, but there was money involved, so the bastard managed.

Bapi leaned against the rail, regaining his breath. Sweat darkened the tank top that he wore for work. Yellow and brown stains of whatever curry or sandwich he’d eaten for lunch dotted the material. It made Nailer hungry just looking at all that food on Bapi’s chest, but there was no meal coming until evening, and there was no point looking at food Bapi would never share.

Bapi’s quick brown eyes studied them, alert for signs that they’d gone lazy and weren’t serious about scavenging for quota. Even though none of them had been idle before, with Bapi watching they all worked faster, trying to demonstrate they were worth keeping. Bapi had been light crew himself once; he knew their ways, knew the tricks of laziness. It made him dangerous.

“What you got?” he asked Pima.

Pima glanced up, squinting into the sun. “Copper. Lots. Nailer found new ducts that Gorgeous’s crew missed.”

Bapi’s teeth flashed white, showing the front gap where a fight had cost him his incisors. “How much?”

Pima jerked her head at Nailer, giving him permission.

“Maybe hundred, hundred and twenty kilos so far,” Nailer estimated. “There’s more down there.”

“Yeah?” Bapi nodded. “Well, hurry and get it out. Don’t worry about stripping it. Just make sure you get it all.” He looked out toward the horizon. “Lawson & Carlson says a storm’s coming. Big one. We’re going to be off the wrecks for a couple days. I want enough wire that you can work it on the sand.”

Nailer stifled his distaste at the thought of going back down into the blackness, but Bapi must have caught something of his expression.

“Got a problem, Nailer? You think a storm means you get to sit on your ass?” Bapi waved toward the work camps strung along the beach’s jungle edge. “You think I can’t get a hundred other licebiters to take your place? There’s kids down there who’d let me cut out an eye if it would get them up on a wreck.”

Pima interceded. “He’s got no problem. You want the wire, we’ll get it. No problem.” She glared at Nailer. “We’re your crew, boss. No problem at all.”

They all nodded emphatically. Nailer got to his feet and handed the rest of his wire over to Tick-tock. “No problem, boss,” he repeated.

Bapi scowled at Nailer. “You sure you vouch for him, Pima? I can put a knife through this one’s crew tats and dump him on the sand.”

“He’s good scavenge,” she said. “We’re ahead on quota ’cause of him.”

“Yeah?” Bapi relented slightly. “Well, you’re boss girl. I don’t interfere.” He eyed Nailer. “You watch it, boy. I know how your kind thinks. Always imagining you’re going to be a Lucky Strike. Pretending you’ll find some big old oil pocket and never work another day in your life. Your old man was a lazy bastard like that. Look how he turned out.”

Nailer felt a rising anger. “I don’t talk about your dad.”

Bapi laughed. “What? You gonna fight me, boy? Try and pigstick me from behind the way your old man would?” Bapi touched his knife. “Pima vouches for you, but I’m wondering if you got the sense to know how much of a favor she’s doing.”

“Let it go, Nailer,” Pima urged. “Your dad’s not worth it.”

Bapi watched, smiling slightly. His hand lingered close to his knife. Bapi had all the cards, and they both knew it. Nailer ducked his head and forced down his anger.

“I’ll get your scavenge, boss. No problem.”

Bapi gave Nailer a sharp nod. “Smarter than your old man, then.” He turned to the rest of the crew. “Listen up, everyone. We don’t have a lot of time. If you get the extra scavenge out before the storm, I’ll bonus you. There’s another light crew coming on soon. We don’t want to leave them any easy pickings, right?”

He grinned, feral, and they all nodded back. “No easy pickings,” they echoed.


Excerpted from Ship Breaker by Bacigalupi, Paolo Copyright © 2010 by Bacigalupi, Paolo. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 228 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The First reviewer said it best . . .

    A lot of teen boys have been looking for a male equivalent to the Hunger Games. This is it. Semi-post-apocalyse seems to be coming into style, and this book could head up that craze. I would not be suprised if this was the hot teen book of the summer. Teens and adults alike can enjoy this gripping and well written novel.

    14 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 15, 2012

    Great book! Can't wait to read his others!

    Honestly, I wasn't expecting much from this book, given the author's name. Silly, but true--an author's pen name can make or brake the reception of a book. Anyway, this fantastic little treasure introduces us to a post-apocalyptic/dystopian world in which petrol is all but gone and a good portion of America's south is "swimming with the fishes." Haha. This world is one in which our cars are extreme luxuries, reserved for the "swanks" of the world. Our protagonist definitely does not fit this title. He works as a ship breaker in the light crew, stripping the insides of rusted old buckets, that are our cruise ships and tankers today, of their useful metals. Salvage. After growing too large to navigate the small crevices of the ships, the only hope one has is to grow large enough to make the heavy crew, or make a "Lucky Strike." Nailer, the lead role, lives on a small beach with an abusive father and helpful friend, working day-in and day-out in asbestos, rat droppings, and oil fumes for a meager wage that barely feeds him and pays for his father's addictions. But he's always dreamed of a better world, the world the swanks have on their fast little ships and in their cozy homes. Little does he know, the city-killer (a hurricane of epic proportions) is just the answer to his dreams. Check out this book if you enjoyed the Hunger Games, Battle Royale, Divergent, 1984, or anything of the like!

    7 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012


    I was intrigued by all the acclaim and attention this book has been getting. The world the author creates is visceral and haunting, especially when you think that it could be our world a few hundred years from now--that might the most powerful thing about the novel.
    The characters were good and the plot compelling, and there was plenty of action...but somehow when I had gotten to the end of a couple hundred pages, my reaction was--"and that's it?" I enjoyed the novel, yet I wished he had managed a bit more scope for it. Perhaps he's intending a sequel. I would definitely read it if he writes one.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2011

    Oddly paced and not worth the money.

    I honestly don't understand why people are comparing this book to the Hunger Games. Ship Breaker did not flow very well and the characters never seemed quite real. I am very glad I checked this book out at the library instead of purchasing it. Bacigalupi is a good writer but this novel is not up to par with his usual work.

    4 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Loved it.

    Action from the get-go, takes a little bit to get to the main story line, but it is truly such a good read. If you're finding yourself disinterested at first, push through it anyway and you'll find yourself loving it.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2011

    Editorial reviews are enthusiastic and accurate; awards were well-deserved!

    I totally agree with the professional reviewers who have extremely positive things to say about SHIP BREAKER, and I think the 2 book awards it received were justfied. I am a grandmother in her mid 60s who read this book to determine if it would be exciting and interestng, as well as appropriate, as a gift for two of my grandsons in their teens. I was totally surprised to find that the story and characters gripped me and kept me so interested that I had trouble putting the book down. Needless to say, I purchased 2 copies as Christmas gifts for the boys! Yes, this book is often grim and violent but some of the characters prove that people can transcend their upbringing and environment if they remain true to a worthy moral code, even under difficult, life-threatening circumstances. I'm looking forward to the sequel due out in May 2012. I think this series could be just as good as HUNGER GAMES and would also make a great movie.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    from missprint DOT wordpress DOT com

    Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)

    This book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

    It was also the winner of the 2011 Printz Award (given by the American Library Association to a book with high literary merit written for teens).

    This book has already gotten tons of attention which is why I don't feel bad doing a rapid fire review of it instead of a full, traditional one. It was a lot of fun to read it during the Printz announcements and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected (I thought I was burnt out on dystopian novels but this one was really interesting).

    I liked the writing and the characters and I can see why it caught the Printz committee's attention. I liked that the characters were diverse with people of all colors and cultures and even half men like Tool. I liked the writing style and the pacing. I thought the premise was interesting and there was a lot of action. I like the malleability of names, how Nailer was also Lucky Boy. I also thought the pervasive nature of luck in Nailer's life was interesting. The family dynamics and the idea that family is what you make of it not just blood was also great.

    That said, I also had some problems with the book:

    I noticed there were a lot of repeated phrases like every time Nailer got hurt, something seemed to be blossoming with pain or a bright blossom of pain, etc. Which is fine-it's a good phrase. But it started to appear A LOT.

    I also thought the book got a little philosophical, not necessarily in a bad way but kind of in a "this looks like someone trying really hard to drive home a point" kind of way.

    I thought the author's world building was pretty well done but I also had a lot of unanswered questions. On the one hand I respect that the story wanted to throw readers right into the action. On the other hand there really were a lot of questions and some of them would have been easy to answer.


    (SPOILER!)When Nailer's back gets infected Pima says Nailer needs to take pills three times a day for ten more days. But then he and Lucky Girl run away. Did Nailer take the pills with him? Did he take them on the train? If he didn't do either of those things did the infection come back? It was a big part of the story and I would have liked to not have it dangling. Because, frankly, in real life-especially in Nailer's lousy world-he should have died without the meds. It was weird to have that be such an obvious fact. Only to be left hanging.

    I also wanted to know more about the dynamics of Bright Sands Beach. There's light crew and heavy crew. But are those the only options? If you aren't crewed up are you as bad off as Sloth? What happens if you get too big for light crew but too small for heavy crew? It seemed weird that there was nothing else mentioned. Couldn't some of them have worked at Chen's noodle shop or something?

    I also wished there was a little more about the crew tats. Like do you just keep them if you get too big for light crew (as opposed to getting thrown off)? Are there other tattoos for heavy crew?

    Basically I enjoyed the book and I thought it was really interesting and deserving of all of its praise. But I was frustrated that there were not more details and background and, for me, can't say it's a book I absolutely loved (but I did like it).

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2011


    Great adventure story, reminded me of the hunger games by the way of survival. Excellent book couldnt put it done

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    Truly incredible book. Lots of action and intrigue make this boo

    Truly incredible book.
    Lots of action and intrigue make this book one of the must-read books this summer. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2012

    Mrs. Ba

    Mrs. Ba

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2012

    Great book

    READ IT you will not regret it it is a very thrilling book for readers 13 and up

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2011

    I have a secret

    I looooove this book reading for school. Amazing book crazy that he survived the wreakage. Go nailer!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2011

    interesting world that is ultimately ignored

    the world the characters exist in is interesting. full of technology, beliefs and alt history/distopian earth things that you only get very small looks at. story ultimately feels like a tease. the actual plot and actual story are fairly weak. you finish... wishing more would have been seen/explained/shown about this thing or that. borrow don't buy this book

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Amazing book!

    This book is nothing like I expected it to be. As I began reading, it took on a road that I never seen before. I loved the action, the suspense, but I also enjoyed the fear of anger, hurt, and love the flowed between the pages.

    The reader is presented with a character that is strong yet fearful of going home. With an abusive past, Nailer, has grown up quick and learns things fast. He is not who people thinks he is. He has learned what to say and not to say. He goes in motions of things in order to keep his father at bay. I really like how the author brings the strong emotion of fear into the reader. Immediately, I felt Nailer's fear and anxiety within a few minutes into the book. There is nothing like a a great author who can put those kinds of emotions into a readers heart.

    The plot line of the book is filled with many twist and turns that I felt lead the main character Nailer to a destiny he never thought he see. Since Nailer is always put down, hot on, Nailer thinks that nothing good can come of him. With one change of the sea, Nailer is now not only fighting for himself, but for something he loves. I really loved watching Nailer overcome his tribulations to become a better man then his trashy father.

    The love interest in this book gave Nailer an hope and future. I loved it when love can give you more strength that you ever though you had. Nailer became someone else, someone strong and did not give up. I adore that Nailer finally see who he is.

    This is great book filled with a great emotional roller coaster. I loved the dialogue in this book as well as the strength of the characters. Filled with dark, angst parts, this book gives a ray of hope with the love and fighting.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Great story

    the pacing at first was a little slow but the plot and characters are great and the world that Bacigalupi created is amazing

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    Excellent, interesting story. Can't wait for the second book in the series. It says its for young readers, but I think it might be too violent for my kids.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2011

    A waste of money

    No cohesion. You jump around and are left with question marks floating around your head.

    The Synopsis is a better read than the book.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 28, 2011

    Great book! Gripping characters.

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2011

    Read it, but...

    if you had recently or previously read amazing books like The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner, dont read this cause it'll be a huge let down. Or just wait a while. Read a different book like the Uglies Trilogy or Matched, maybe (not saying they're bad. They just relate a little more to this book) or even take a break. im not disappointed in this book, i really liked it but i would've liked it a lot more if i hadn't just finished The Maze Runner...

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 9, 2011


    Finally, something different. Ship Breaker is great because it's not something that's been done over and over. You've got to give credit to anyone that can come up with an original story. Suspenseful and interesting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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