Study Guide

Ship Breaker Introduction

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Ship Breaker Introduction

Ship Breaker is a story about a boy who breaks ships.

You totally want to read it now, right? Oh wait… that's not enough to pique your interest? Hm. How about the fact that it's set in futuristic New Orleans, on a beach, on some ships, and in the slums?

Still not enough? Phew. Tough crowd. Then now's probably a good time to mention that it's brimming with political intrigue, killer storms, genetically modified half-men, dangerous escapes, battles at sea, and fights for survival. It's also a story about a boy who has to figure out who his family really is, whether a girl is worth his life, and how to do the right thing.

Come on… we know we've hooked you now.

Pablo Bacigalupi's novel, published in 2010, was a National Book Award Finalist (2010), it won a Printz Award (2011), and it was named a Publisher's Weekly Best Book of the Year. All for good reason. And when you read it, you'll find that even though there's no Ishmael or great white whale, this is one oceanic adventure you don't want to miss.

What is Ship Breaker About and Why Should I Care?

Let's talk about family, Shmoopers. Did you know there's more than one kind?

On one hand, we're talking about stepparents and single parents and kids raised by grandparents—all those different ways that the families we're born into can look. But on the other hand, we're also talking about the families we choose, the people we find along the way in life who provide us with love, safety, support, and more.

Because here's the thing about the families we're born into: They aren't always good fits for us. Sometimes it's because they have terrible people in them (as is most definitely the case for Nailer in Ship Breaker), and sometimes it's because we just don't have a whole lot in common with them. But no matter the reason, when this is the case, finding people beyond our bloodlines who we can call our own becomes just that much more important. It's a hard life without some true blue company, but the good news is that we aren't limited to who we live with in high school.

So if you've ever wondered whether your parents are secretly aliens, or longed for the day when you never have to see your sister again, if you feel like spending every Friday night with your mom, or you wish you could just move into your best friend's house, then Ship Breaker is the book for you. It digs deep into the darker corners of bloodlines and exposes the warmth that can be found outside them, in the process making the compelling argument that family matters—but where the members come from couldn't matter less.

Ship Breaker Resources


More Paolo Bacigalupi
Check out his website for more fiction and what's next for the author.

Not All TV Is Bad
Manufactured Landscapes is a documentary that incited Bacigalupi's interest in ship breaking.

Articles and Interviews

Why Science Fiction
In an interview with the National Book Foundation, Bacigalupi explains.

How to Write… Sort Of
Bacigalupi explains the meanderings of writing.


A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words
Take a look at real-life ship breakers in Bangladesh in this 60 Minutes episode.


Long Car Ride?
Spice up boring highway driving by listening to the book on tape.


Destruction as Art
Photographer Edward Burtynsky has captured ship breaking in a series of intense photographs.

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