Study Guide

Ship Breaker Genre

By Paolo Bacigalupi


Young Adult Lit; Science Fiction; Adventure

Young Adult Literature

Ship Breaker is clearly a young adult novel. Not only are the main characters young adults on the brink of full-fledged adulthood, they also grapple with questions that young adults face: What does it mean to be loyal? Who is family and who isn't? What role does violence have in our lives? How does socio-economic status work, and how can these boundaries be crossed? Both Nailer and Nita are seeking their place in the world, and this search for identity is very much a marker of young adult literature.

Science Fiction

Bacigalupi contends that he writes science fiction because he is "looking at a moment now […] and then extrapolating outward to think about what the future might be like if this particular trend goes on" (source). That's a pretty fair assessment of what makes Ship Breaker sci-fi. Bacigalupi imagines a world in which the ice caps have melted, nature's gone wild, and the gap between the wealthy and poor has widened immeasurably. He plays with how life might change: Which technologies might persist and how businesses might adjust to the changing world.

Bacigalupi contends that he doesn't really write dystopian literature because dystopia is about a world seeming perfect but not being perfect. Nailer's world seems pretty awful to us, and it doesn't seem like it spends much time trying to pretend otherwise.


Ship Breaker has everything that makes adventure books so exciting. Life threatening situations! Hair-raising escapes! Nature gone wild! Piracy on the high seas! (Well, sort of piracy, if political piracy is actually a thing.) If your pulse doesn't race at least a few times while reading the novel, you might not be alive.

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