Ship Breaker

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This article is about the 2010 book. For the practice of breaking up ships for recycling, see Ship breaking.
Ship Breaker
Ship Breaker
Hardcover edition
Author Paolo Bacigalupi
Cover artist Neil Swaab
Country United States
Language English
Genre Young adult, survival
Publisher Little, Brown and Company
Publication date
May 1, 2010
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 326 pp.
ISBN 978-0-316-05621-2
OCLC 449282270
Preceded by The Windup Girl
Followed by Drowned Cities

Ship Breaker is a 2010 young adult novel by Paolo Bacigalupi set in a post-apocalyptic future. Unlike other novels in the genre, human civilization is in a decline due to ecological reasons. It was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and won the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award[2][3] and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book.[4] It was also a nominee for the 2010 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy and was listed on American Library Association's Young Adult Library Services Association list: 2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list.[5]


Brief Summary[edit]

In a post-apocalyptic future, the polar ice caps have melted and New Orleans is buried underwater. On the Gulf Coast nearby, as humanity has reverted to survival mode, a small economy has grown from the scavenging of washed up oil tankers for bits of copper and other valuable things. Nailer is the fifteen year old son of a violent father and one of these scavengers. His mother died when he was still young. He rescues Nita, the stranded daughter of a wealthy merchant, and decides to help her try to contact her father's people. Unfortunately, this infuriates several parties, including Nailer's father, the local power brokers, and Nita's father's enemies, including Nita's uncle Pyce.

Full Summary[edit]

Nailer, a small-framed teenaged boy, is scavenging through an old rusty ship for copper wire. As he crawls through the darkness looking for scavenge to make quota, he dreams of traveling through the bright blue waters of the flooded oceans on a speeding clipper ship.

A storm arrives. Nailer's father, Richard, passes out due to too much drugs. Sadna, Pima's mother, helps wake Richard up. When a ship becomes stranded after the big storm, Nailer and Pima go to the ship to scavenge. With lots of hesitation, the two Light Crew teenagers save the only survivor of the ship, Nita, whom is nicknamed by Nailer as "Lucky Girl", since she survives the shipwreck.[6] After Nailer saves Nita, Richard, Nailer's father, wants to kill the girl. Pima lunges at Richard with a knife, but is overpowered. Richard decides to show mercy because Pima's mother, Sadna, had saved him from the storm. Knowing that there might be prize when she is handed over towards her father or uncle, Richard decides to spare Nita. Soon after, Nailer becomes sick and sleeps for 3 days.[7]

"Lucky Girl" eventually tells Pima and Nailer the truth: she ran away to safety because her uncle, who wants to sell illegal "tar sand", wants to use her as leverage against her father. Nailer decides to leave with Nita, and a half-man Tool (originally in Richard's Heavy Crew) went with them too, to New Orleans. After jumping trains, they arrive in New Orleans. [8]

Living in New Orleans as poor people, they wait for a ship, loyal to Nita's father to arrive, the Dauntless. When one day the ship came, Richard also came, this time as a swank, a rich man, on the same day. Feeling suspicious, Nailer scouted the ship. After returning to where Nita was hiding, they found out that Richard and Nita's uncle, Pyce, took Nita away. [9]

The Dauntless outsmarts the other ships, the Ray and Pole Stars, after sailing back to the gulf where the story started. The crew members of the Dauntless board the ship, and Nailer searches for Nita. He encounters his father and a fight ensues. Nailer wins and saves Nita. The book ends with Nailer meeting Nita again on the same beach they met. [10]


Major Characters[edit]

  • Nailer: Main character. Teenage ship scavenger who works on the "light crew". His only living blood relative is his abusive father. Was nicknamed by his father as "Lucky Boy" after surviving drowning in a pool of oil.
  • Richard Lopez: Nailer's father and main antagonist of the story who is the leader of a heavy crew scavenge band.
  • Pima: Nailer's close friend. She is head of a section of the "light crew".
  • Sadna: Pima's mother. A veteran scavenger who works on the "heavy crew".
  • Nita: The sole survivor of a shipwreck and the daughter of a global shipping family. Was nicknamed "Lucky Girl" by Nailer and Pima, due to the fact that she was the only survivor of the shipwreck.
  • Tool: A "half-man" and a member of Richard Lopez's crew who helps Nailer.
  • Captain Candless: Captain of the Dauntless ship.
  • Reynolds: Midshipman of the Dauntless and Captain Candless' first mate.

Minor Characters[edit]

  • Sloth: A member of Nailer's "light crew" who is kicked out after leaving him for dead in an oil tanker.
  • Bapi: Supervisor of the ship breaking "light crew," Bapi is Nailer and Pima's boss, and is not known for his kindness or tolerance.
  • Moby: A guard and cronie of Richard Lopez.
  • Reni: A train jumping goon who was chopped to pieces by a wheel while he tried to jump a train drunk.
  • Lucky Strike: Former salvage worker who struck oil and became rich. A sharp, benevolent wheeler-dealer with hands in everything from antibiotics to crystal slide.
  • Mr. Marn: The captain of the Ray, an enemy ship.
  • Trimble: A half-man who works for Captain Candless.
  • Blue Eyes: Member of Richard Lopez's crew, a hard stringy woman devoted to the Life Cult.
  • Patel: The family name of a wealthy business mogul who profits from ship breakers. Lucky Girl claims to be related to them.
  • Nathaniel Pyce: Nita's treacherous "business-marriage uncle," whose people are pursuing her to gain control of the family business empire and selling illegal "tar sand".


  1. ^ Bacigalupi, Paolo (October 2011). Ship Breaker (1st ed. ed.). Little, Brown and Company. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-316-05619-9. 
  2. ^ "National Book Awards - 2010". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  3. ^ "The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature". Young Adult Library Services Association. Retrieved 10 January 2011. 
  4. ^ "Locus YA Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ "Ship Breaker Summary". Shmoop. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Bacigalupi, Paolo (May 2010). "Chapter 12". Ship Breaker (1st pb ed.). Book Little, Brown and Company. pp. 131–146. ISBN 978-0-316-05619-9. 
  8. ^ Bacigalupi, Paolo (May 2010). "Chapter 13-16". Ship Breaker (1st pb ed.). Book Little, Brown and Company. pp. 147–200. ISBN 978-0-316-05619-9. 
  9. ^ Bacigalupi, Paolo (May 2010). "Chapter 17-23". Ship Breaker (1st pb ed.). Book Little, Brown and Company. pp. 201–288. ISBN 978-0-316-05619-9. 
  10. ^ Bacigalupi, Paolo (May 2010). "Chapter 16-25". Ship Breaker (1st pb ed.). Book Little, Brown and Company. pp. 288–323. ISBN 978-0-316-05619-9. 
Preceded by
Going Bovine
Michael L. Printz Award Winner
Succeeded by
Where Things Come Back