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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life doesn't get much harsher than this, and it was a wild ride from start to finish
I enjoyed Ship Breaker quite a bit, with all the popcorn munching enthusiasm of watching a really good action flick. I definitely give it props for its entertainment value, and considering that his target audience can be quite fickle, I think Mr. Bacigalupi did a fabulous job with the pacing, moving the action around, and always giving us something new to see. This book...
Published on June 26, 2010 by Mrs. Baumann

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130 of 136 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, grim YA
Nailer, a teenager, is one of many people who live in shantytowns along the US Gulf Coast, trying to eke out a dangerous living by working on disassembling crews, taking apart abandoned -- and now obsolete -- oil tankers. The work is dangerous, and taking risks is almost a necessity, because if the young workers don't make quota, there are always other starving kids ready...
Published on August 6, 2010 by Stefan


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130 of 136 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, grim YA, August 6, 2010
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This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
Nailer, a teenager, is one of many people who live in shantytowns along the US Gulf Coast, trying to eke out a dangerous living by working on disassembling crews, taking apart abandoned -- and now obsolete -- oil tankers. The work is dangerous, and taking risks is almost a necessity, because if the young workers don't make quota, there are always other starving kids ready to take their jobs. Once the children get too big to crawl down the narrow ship ducts in search of copper wiring and other recyclable metals, there aren't many options left to them... and if they're not strong enough to do the heavier work, prostitution, crime or starvation are almost inevitable.

At the start of Ship Breaker, Nailer finds an undiscovered oil reservoir in the ship he is exploring -- a lucky strike that would be sufficient to feed him and possibly provide escape from his abusive father. However, when he almost drowns in the oil, and one of his young crew mates finds him, she decides not to rescue him and leaves him to die so she can take advantage of his find. Even though Nailer manages to escape, this incident, set early in the novel, is a perfect introduction to the competing themes of "loyalty in the face of adversity" vs. "everyone for themselves" that run through Ship Breaker. After all, when Nailer finds a gorgeous clipper ship run aground during a hurricane, he faces the same choice: should he rescue the rich "swank" girl trapped inside, or let her die so the ship's salvage can make him wealthy?

YA novels have changed just a tad, haven't they? Yep, although you maybe wouldn't guess so from the paragraphs above, Ship Breaker is actually the first Young Adult novel by Paolo Bacigalupi. You can draw a straight line right from the author's excellent SF novel The Windup Girl, which also focused on the disastrous consequences of environmental change, to Ship Breaker. Even though the reading level is YA, and most of the main characters are teenagers, the grimness (not to mention the violence) is definitely straddling the border between adult and YA.

Be that as it may, Ship Breaker is a well-written, gripping SF novel. The story's scope continually broadens, from Nailer's initial find, to the arrival of the clipper, and ultimately to everything the ship's owner stands for. Likewise, the dystopian future gradually becomes clearer as Nailer becomes more aware of, and eventually ventures into, the world outside his beach shantytown. As mentioned before, the theme of loyalty is approached from different directions. Just to name a few: Nailer's relationship with his abusive and addicted father; the connections with and between his crew's members; and maybe most interestingly, the concept of "halfmen," genetically engineered to be loyal to their owners.

While I enjoyed Ship Breaker, and would recommend it to mature YA readers, I can't help but wonder if this story wouldn't have worked better as a regular, non-YA novel. Some of the darker concepts, situated on the periphery of Nailer's story, are only broadly hinted at rather than described outright, which left me feeling frustrated and wanting to read more. If you told me there was a 600-page adult version of this 340-page YA novel, in which Paolo Bacigalupi really embraced the story's darkness and delved more deeply into the world's history and set-up, I'd be first in line to read it.

Still, armchair-quarterbacking aside, Ship Breaker is a good novel with a likable protagonist, a gripping story, and a vision of the future that's sadly becoming more probable by the day. If the grim realism of the environmentally ruined future described in The Windup Girl didn't bother you, and you're in the mood for something in the same vein but at a slightly easier reading level, definitely check out Ship Breaker.
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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life doesn't get much harsher than this, and it was a wild ride from start to finish, June 26, 2010
This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
I enjoyed Ship Breaker quite a bit, with all the popcorn munching enthusiasm of watching a really good action flick. I definitely give it props for its entertainment value, and considering that his target audience can be quite fickle, I think Mr. Bacigalupi did a fabulous job with the pacing, moving the action around, and always giving us something new to see. This book would make a great film, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised to hear that it's been optioned already.

What impressed me no end was how well he plunges the reader into a life of extreme poverty. As I was reading about Nailer's life, I thought, we don't need to wait for a dystopian society to see people living like this. It's real, and it's happening now, and I think any middle class teenager could benefit from thinking about how some kids have to grow up. It's shocking, and startling, and the line between the haves and the have nots is bigger than the Grand Canyon. I got all riled up, and it's my hope that other readers do too.

Entertainment value aside, I think the story falters a bit on the emotional side. I felt a connection to Nailer, but it didn't go bone deep. Considering all the terrible stuff that happens to him over the course of this book, I should have been crying for him at some point, and I never did. I'm also curious to see whether teens will embrace Nailer, who is the antithesis of the typical tall, straight-limbed, attractive hero. He's short, scrawny, and horribly scarred. He's not attractive by any conventional standard, so my inner cynic is questioning whether true young adult readers can overcome their natural inclination for superficial beauty.

Ship Breaker is another excellent entry into the ever-growing category of young adult dystopian fiction. If you've enjoyed novels like The Maze Runner by James Dashner, or Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder, then definitely put this one on your list too.
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44 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Positively Adventurous YA Debut, April 24, 2010
This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
I am reviewing an Advance Reading Copy from the publisher.

In this post-oil world stricken by global warming, it's hard not to find similarities between Ship Breaker and Bacigalupi's debut, The Windup Girl--positive similarities. As in his adult SF release, Nailer's future Earth is not pretty--in fact, it's quite desperate. Progressive rebuilding has resulted only in ruinous achievements. New Orleans has been reincarnated not once, but twice after the public realized it was prone to flooding. The worlds suffer similarly, as do the people. The privileged few oversee large corporate entities; the underprivileged majority do the worst possible jobs to get by every day (one has to wonder if this isn't happening right now). The divide between the rich and the poor is drastic.

Both are gritty dystopias. The worlds are, quite literally, falling apart. China is still a world powerhouse and humanity won't stop engineering composite lifeforms. Sea levels are rising at alarming rates, cities have been drowned. Despite the compulsion I felt to make a comparison, Ship Breaker is not entirely similar to The Windup Girl. There's something piratical that marks it distinctly from his debut and not just because there were large bodies of water and ships involved. Thievery mentality and loosely based support systems thrive along the wasted Gulf Coast. I couldn't help feeling that I'd never quite left Emiko's world, though. Things are not exactly the same--it's unfair of me to declare Ship Breaker the YA version of The Windup Girl. What is fair is to say the similarities I found in these two books are the same types of outcomes seen in a wide variety of dystopias.

It might be the thematic predictability of such books is what's turning a brilliantly adventurous book into something that didn't quite go as far as I would have liked, but I don't think so. Making the fantastical extrapolations that these dystopias do seems natural. The world is realizing our resources are not finite; the weather is acting strangely. These things are happening right now. Why not imagine a future where we do one day run out of oil, where the weather's gone to the extremes?

The characters are all a bit quirky with mono- and disyllabic names and a broad range of ethnicities and skin tones. What's amazing about this is how subtle and normal Bacigalupi makes this information. It's so offhand and inconsequential to what's really important that I wanted right there and then to tell him how much I appreciate this. Not making a fuss out of skin color is just as amazing as including minority representation.

One of the more interesting character elements was the inclusion of Tool. Tool is an odd collection of genes (hyena, tiger, dog, human) engineered to have utter loyalty, a fierce temperament when needed, but has the unfortunate side effect of having a face that looks a bit canine. While he may not look pretty, Tool's face is supposed to inspire fear, especially since half-men like him are mostly used as thugs and bodyguards. Tool makes a unique case. His rebellion against the natural order of half-men (and the irony of his name) has elevated him to the mysterious and aberrational ranks of Emiko. And here is one other similarity I found between Ship Breaker and The Windup Girl. What frustrated me the most wasn't the connection between how Tool acts and how Emiko acts--both break with convention and "go against their programming"--but rather the lack of a backstory. Tool keeps his past shrouded in mystery, constantly reminding Nailer and those around him how unexpected his actions are. I didn't stay frustrated for long; Tool's origins are probably best left unanswered, especially since I realized it was not knowing combined with how anomalous he was that became so fascinating. His right to secrecy allows him the dignity his social status wouldn't provide otherwise.

I did, however, wish I'd gotten more information on half-men in general so I could really relate to everyone's incredulity rather than being told how loyal they are and how unorthodox Tool's behavior was against those conventions. That would have helped me believe the other character's reactions much better. Ship Breaker is such a short book relative to the events that happen--I can see why Bacigalupi may have stylistically left that out. There was so much suspense and multiple rescues that I felt the book could have done well as two! We're never in any one place for very long before something happens. I found myself wanting to linger at certain scenes, but couldn't when Nailer was quickly whisked away to the next.

I think there's room for a sequel. I say this because I want a sequel. I want more adventures and the implications are there for another. Ship Breaker is one of the bestYA books I've read, not just this year so far, but ever. And this is the best solution I can think of when I say I want more. I wasn't quite ready to leave Nailer's world and wouldn't mind going back for another visit. Bacigalupi proves yet again he has the talent to write an engrossing story with very human considerations at heart.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hooked from the start, November 24, 2010
This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
This is a darn good book.

In my estimation, any book that that can grab me and not let go until I finish it falls into that category. Such was the case here. I have a bad habit of getting bored with a bok and not sticking it out to the end, or becoming so distracted by "real life crap" that I can't finish what I started. This was the case with The Terror, and Catch-22, and Lamb, and Crime and Punishment... And a few more. But Ship Breaker hooked me and kept me going.

Very quickly, in a dystopian future where global warming has melted the polar ice caps and turned the gulf coast into a catch-all for huge Category 6 hurricanes, a teenager named Nailer and his crew scavenge old oil tankers and live a pretty miserable life. After a huge storm, Nailer discovers a shipwrecked yacht, with a swanky rich girl inside, and all manner of exciting things begin to happen.

One thing that gave me pause before I began this book was the global warming angle. Regardless of my opinions one way or another on any issue, what I don't want is to begin a novel and get stuck in the middle of a heavy-handed lecture. There was one scene near the middle of the book that began to veer in that direction, but to the author's credit, he didn't linger for long. He got in, made his point, then got on with the story, and for that I was glad, because it's a hell of a good story. Because of this focus on the story and the characters rather than The Message, the underlying cause of the state of the world in this tale has more ressonance. And also, the world PB has created here is so vivid and lush and real, it would do him and this book harm to be too focused on the cause. For that, I applaud him.

This book is listed as Young Adult, but if you wouldn't have told me that, I never would have guessed, aside from the fact that the protagonist and his buddies are all in their early teens. I know for a fact I would have loved this book back in the bygone day when I was a YA myself. I look forward to forcing it on my boys, maybe yank them away from their manga binges, get 'em cultured up a bit.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I hate to gush, but..., July 1, 2010
This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
Wow! I have read quite a few books in the dystopian genre, both adult and YA, and haven't liked one this much since I first read The Hunger Games. This book is a great example of good storytelling. The pace is intense without being frenetic. There's an edge of your seat feeling of dread and excitement throughout the entire thing that will keep you hooked. The author takes a chapter or two to set the scene, develop some characters, and to let the reader essentially get their feet wet in this new world he's created. It's not long though, before the story takes off and you are under way on a rip roaring adventure full of greed, murder, pirates, storms, and ship battles. Great stuff.

The characters in this novel are stellar. In Nailer you have the poor kid who dreams of a better life; the shipyard rat with the heart of gold and the courage of lion. In Lucky Girl, you have the swank who's used to the soft life, but is finding her true nature with the help of a skinny little rat she would have never even have noticed if the Fates had not intervened. All of the secondary characters are interesting and add to the story, especially the half men, genetic mutations bred to serve the rich.

The interesting sci-fi elements, the great characters, and the expert plotting all tie together to make this book truly memorable. Don't pass this one by. I picked this one up on the basis of it's consistent glowing reviews, and for once, here's one that lives up to the hype. This is a great choice - especially for adventure loving boys, even those who say they don't like to read. This is a must read for anybody grade 8 and up. No language or sexual content, just violence. This is a hard world the author has created; one that both teens and adults will find fascinating.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Breaking Ships, September 4, 2010
This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
Ship Breaker is definitely one of those dystopian novels that scares the pants off you. You know, the kind of story that's built around a world the reader could actually see becoming a reality. Yea, this book is that type of dystopian.

Set in a post apocalyptic Gulf Coast region -- New Orleans and surrounding areas have been virtually wiped out by "city killers". Described as larger than life hurricanes, these storms decimated whole urban areas and swept them under the sea. As a result of the devastation beach dwelling colonies arose to perform the task of salvaging what was left. Most specifically anything and everything that can be removed from old ship wrecks. This is where readers meet Nailer and his crew of scavengers for hire. In Bright Sands Beach they are one of the resident "light crews" crawling down into a shipwreck's smallest and tightest places to retrieve valuables for swanky bigwig's.

I admit, for awhile I found it difficult to follow who really was who. The introduction of so many characters in a very short period of time had them all sort of bleeding into each other for awhile. This difficulty arose from the fact that most everyone was described the same way. They all had the same job and had many of the same characteristics. Sure, there were some notable differences between each but there wasn't a lot to distinguish different characters until some of the larger plot started to play out. I was finally able to wrap my head around it some when they started going their separate ways. I was able to gain much more focus then.

The bulk of the plot revolved around Nailer, Pima and Lucky Girl's quest to find their way back to the latter's family safely. Family being one of the issues delved into as well. It was fast-paced, interesting and filled with a fair amount of intrigue. Don't worry, though there were some sparks of romance was in the air it wasn't a large part of the story. There were subtle hints here and there that feelings were increasing between Nailer and one of the lovely ladies in his company but it wasn't the prevailing point of the story. This worked in its favor as this story really wasn't about love, it was about people.

The strength of Ship Breaker is in the world that Bacigalupi has built. We can feel the grime and and taste the salt in the water air. I kept envisioning a world that looked like one of those disaster movies where the Statue of Liberty's head is sticking out of 400 feet of water. Bright Sands Beach was interesting, one the one hand it was as dark and seedy as the scariest back alley, yet it still had pockets of purity. Then when on the sea and in the Orleans areas I got a very distinct old world vibe. It was, without a doubt, the best part of the book.

Ultimately I will say that this wasn't my most favorite dystopian, however, it's a pretty dang good one. An interesting departure from those that tend to focus a bit more on the more futuristic qualities. It was real (dare I say current), there is no mistaking that. It was compelling, no mistaking that either. Know that if you read Ship Breaker you're in for a very distinct and quality read.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My new number one author, July 24, 2010
This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
For years now, reviews from other Amazon readers have proven to be valuable in helping me decide whether or not to buy a book. I usually trust the opinion's of the mass public over any official award from some authority. In return though, I've never contribute single review myself. The selfishness ends with this book. I want everyone to read it.

I cam to know of this book from Philip Reeve's blog (author of the fantabulous Mortal Engines series), and as he was my favourite author at the moment, I decided that if he recommended it it had to be worthwhile. I even went out and bought the hardcover because I was too impatient to wait for the paperback. This was the first hardcover that I'd bought in my life.

And it was so worth the money. I'm not going to delve much, but instead simply echo the words of other reviewers in saying that the book got me hooked. The dystopian future imagine by Paolo bacigalala isn't too far-fetched, which adds an impending sense of imminence to it. His sense and grasp of poverty and its stranglehold on people's morals entirely real. His dialogue and narration deeper and way more sophisticated than a lot of other YA books that favor plot over language. The ending, complete yet open to the endearing possibility of a return to the series.

I couldn't wait however. I needed more of this Bacigalallaa guy's work. Saw that he'd written an earlier novel called the Windup Girl and thought that would be a nice filler till the sequel to Ship Breaker (if it ever happens) arrives. No way Windup Girl could be better than Ship Breaker. WRONG AGAIN DIMWIT. Now I'm waiting desperately for his PumpSix short story collection to come out on paperback in DEcember 2010.

This Bacigalala guy, he is writing extremely good dystopian stuff. Good enough that Philip Reeve ain't my number one no more.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly surprising!, June 14, 2010
This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
Ship. Breaker. Not really sure just from that title what the book would have been about but with a synopsis like this it's hard to think it would fail:

"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. . . ."

I was so pleasantly surprised at the creative premise that Paolo Bacigalupi delivered. Nailer is a character that jumped up from page one. He stands out as a loyal, hardworking and clever main character that isn't afraid to say what's on his mind. His snarkiness and bravery is contagious and as his story unfolded I fell more and more in love with him. But his journey is full of action and the story is captivating from the characters to the dialogue to the locations. Each aspect of Paolo's book is original and unique and readers will find themselves pulled deep into Nailer's world full of danger, action and overcoming obstacles. MUST READ!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THIS IS A JUVIE?, June 15, 2010
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This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
I was put off this book by its classification as a juvie, thinking it would be "Emma and Todd going off to save the world and being home in time for dinner and homework" and boy was I wrong.
This is a superb book that just begs for a sequel so we can find out the rest of the story. The story was actually done, we were not left hanging, but I wasn't ready to leave and I want more, NOW.
PB has the gift for describing ecologic and economic dystopias without preaching and blaming, a rare talent. The main characters were well-realized and engaged the reader immediately. The action sequences were just like being there and made you glad you were safe at home reading about them; none of them were over the top in credibility. PB dealt with issues of loyalty, family, and "duty" seamlessly as part of the character's development and did not lecture.
I am just real impressed with this new guy on the block. I hope he has a long and prolific career. Well done.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stick with Windup Girl and Pump Six, even if you are a "YA", August 8, 2011
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This review is from: Ship Breaker (Hardcover)
Like some other reviewers, I LOVED this author in "Windup Girl" and "Pump Six and Other Stories." I was willing to make allowances for Ship Breaker, given that it is marketed to teens. But, in the end, I wouldn't give Ship Breaker to my own teens, as I did with Pump Six. I suspect that this extremely talented author suffered from may too much editing and peer input on this book. This approach may produce awards or near-awards (National Book award "Finalist"), but it's a killer for real quality.

Some specifics? How about this explanation of why the bad guys are bad, supposedly delivered by a teen girl: "It's tar sands development and refining. A way to make burnable fuel, a crude oil replacement. The valuation has gone up, because of carbon production limits. [They] have been refining tar sands in our northern holdings and secretly using... clippers to ship it over the pole to China ... avoiding taxation because of territory disputes in the Arctic." A second character explains: "It's black market fuel,... Banned by convention if not in fact." (page 193).

These lines go wrong just about every way possible. The language does not sound anything close to what a teenage girl would say. The language does sound like a certain sort of adult -- the sort who thinks he sounds smarter if he says "valuation" instead of value, or if he strings together nouns or words pretending to be nouns in a series ("tar sands development and refining"; "carbon production limits"). And how about the substance? The story is set in a world that has broken down, and the worst the bad guys can do is develop a source of oil while "avoiding taxation" and violating "convention"? I am reminded of the movie Mighty Ducks 3 (or was it 2?). That's the only movie in the history of mankind where the bad guys are from.... Iceland! Now we have the first book to demonize oil shale. And you wonder why kids want to read about Voldemort instead?

As for the rest, the themes are trite, and sometimes dumb. We are told several times that families come in all different forms. Likewise, we get the repeated message that people can choose for themselves; they don't have to go the way of their parents just because of "blood." Inanely, the book assumes that if society breaks down, and people don't have enough to eat, men and women will still interact on terms of complete gender equality. In short, this book has all the simplistic moralizing that is so refreshingly absent from Bacigalupi's other work.

I'm sure there's a market these days for books about teens facing the supposed consequences of global warming. This book probably reflects good marketing; but at the expense of good writing.
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Ship Breaker
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Hardcover - May 1, 2010)
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