Ship Breaker

Common Sense Media says

Gripping but bloody dystopian tale will make teens think.





What parents need to know

Educational value

This book is a good jumping off point for a discussion of the world's dependence on oil, the development of other technologies, world trade, consumerism, and unfair labor, as well as alcoholism and drug abuse. 

Positive messages

On the surface, this is about making hard ethical choices. Loyalty is rewarded; bravery wins out.  On a deeper level, it is about environmental and social issues: oil, trade, and the harsh world they created. 

Positive role models

Even in this dark world, the more heroic characters are honest, hardworking, caring people who are loyal to their friends, especially the hero Nailer, his friend Pima, and her mother. They risk their lives several times to help each other, and that is what saves them in the end. 


Not only is the threat of violence omnipresent, but days are thick with gory knife fights and bloody battles with half-men, slashing machetes, clubs, teeth, and chains. Throats are cut, eyes gouged, and so on. 


Nasty guys leer at a captured girl. Later, she and the hero feel flutterings of teen love. Girls and women who can't get any other job become prostitutes. 


Gritty language in a gritty world...these characters are tough and talk that way.  Even the younger beach scavengers swear quite a bit. 

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

All of the beach characters, young and old, drink black ling, beer, etc .The hero's father is an alcoholic and frequent drug user who becomes especially vile and dangerous when under the influence. He runs with a gang of equally threatening, hard-living drunks and addicts. 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this National Book Award Finalist is set in a dark futuristic world. It is full of fast-paced adventure and quite a lot of violence (gory knife fights and bloody battles in which throats are cut, eyes gouged, and so on). The hero survives with wit and an ability to make ethical choices. This book is a good jumping off point for a discussion of the world's
dependence on oil and unfair labor practices, as well as why dystopian novels are so popular -- and what they can teach us.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

The story takes place somewhere along the Gulf of Mexico, sometime in the future. The hero, Nailer, lives a gritty, desperate life scavenging copper wire from the ducts of beached oil tankers while dreaming of sailing away on one of the high-tech clipper ships that are bound for higher seas and a better world. Much like a character from Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist, Nailer finds safety and survival by being part of a crew of scavengers, but he has to make quota each day to keep his place. On top of that, his father is a mean, raging abuser of alcohol and crystal slide, all of which does not make his life any easier. When Nailer stumbles upon a beached clipper ship and its lone survivor, a swank girl from one of the wealthiest trading families, he must make a string of hard choices.

Is it any good?


From the first page to the last, one adventure after another will keep readers turning pages. Swash-buckling evil characters seem to be in charge, and around
every turn. Just as no escape seems possible, the heroes find a way. Just as they nearly break away, they are caught again and again.

But beyond the adventure, this book will challenge teens to mull over the bleak world of the ship breakers: How did their society come about? How can we avoid this fictional world becoming a reality? Readers will appreciate the difficult ethical choices the heroes, especially Nailer, struggle with -- and be relieved that the good ultimately manage to come out on top. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about dystopian novels. Why are these sorts of novels popular right now -- like the Hunger Games series? Why is it important to read books about our possible futures?

  • This book was a finalist for the National Book Award. Do you think it deserved this prize? Have you read any of the other books on this year's list, like Mockingbird or One Crazy Summer?

Book details

Author:Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre:Science Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:May 1, 2010
Number of pages:336
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

This review of Ship Breaker was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byHugeReader123 November 8, 2011

Really Good Book, but Too much Cursing, Drinking, Violence

This is a really adequate book. Not great, but very good. The cussing is WAY for teens, being there about 50 dam-s, sh--s, he--, bast---d, and such. The violence is harsh, but still, a very good book. Can't wait for the second one. A lot of drinking aslo.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent Written byShaunL October 21, 2011

Challenging ideas of comfort

Having not read "sci-fi" since I was a young teen, I was blown away by this novel for many reasons. It's fast paced, and thus likely to keep the attention of the video game generation, the protagonist is not only "street smart" but has deep moral values, and he is able to build the possibility of a better life for himself by understanding that family, friendship and loyalty are choices and not givens. This book is iconoclastic, in the broad sense and I loved it for that.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written bychryseise March 27, 2011


Ship Breaker had me hooked from the very first chapter right up until the final sentence, where I finally decided was the only appropriate moment to release my breath. That said, I can easily state that this book was one of the most dangerously thrilling, gripping, and profound stories I had read in all my years of reading adventure and dystopian novels.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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