Kill her, become rich. Save her, make a friend.

In Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel Ship Breaker, a young boy named Nailer, is challenged with decisions that will change the course of his life forever. It starts off on an island where broken up ships eventually wash up on. It's Nailer’s and his “ship breaking” kind to strip these ships of everything valuable, down to the copper wiring to make quota. Nailer's living the life, abusive father, terrible boss, awful job, and a “crew member” that leaves him to drown. Where do I sign up?


Nailer is a little more than average boy, dealing with poisonous gas, cramped crawl spaces, suffocating oil on a daily basis.

Life was great for Nailer, or as good as it could be when you're dealing with life threatening situations 

as just inconveniences, and when you're father is a borderline psychopath with drinking problems. Until one day, he finds some great scavenge, a huge clipper ship that's loaded with gold, silver and enough copper to make quote for years to come. With a find like this, one must be careful, however, if someone were to also find this they would take it all for themselves, and this find would be lost. Cautiously, Nailer and one his crew members, Pima, scavenge the ship taking everything valuable and light. They finally hit the jackpot, no more working for the rest of their lives, or so they think.


While Nailer and Pima are scavenging this ship, they run into a girl laying under a pile of assorted furniture. They start to pull off the gold rings off her fingers but as they start to pull the first ring off her bloated finger, her dark, lifeless eyes blink. Startled, they soon find out that this girl is still alive, meaning that everything on this ship belonged to her, all this scavenge that could make them rich, no longer belongs to them. They have 2 options from here, kill her and hope the Fates don't see, or save her and possibly lose all your scavenge. After deep consideration, Nailer decided to help the girl, thinking to his past experiences where he almost died because no one would help him.


Nailer was challenged with a decision where we must think what it would be like to be in the shoes of the other person before we jump and make our conclusions. It would be too easy for Nailer to just quickly slit her throat, no one would have to know and he would be able to live such an easy and work free life from then on. By examining all perspectives, can help us make decisions that may not only be best for us, but best for the people around us. Making Nailer such a likable character since the very beginning, showing off his selfless traits close to the very beginning of the novel. Just something about seeing another human helping out a total stranger is something we don't always see nowadays with so much negativity in the world. Nailer doing this selfless action is one of many reasons he sticks out as one of those stereotypical heroes, which may be a little cliche but is nonetheless still needed in this world.


Soon after saving the girl, she quickly receives the nickname Lucky Girl, for two reasons, one being that she survived all the furniture crushing her, and lucky for Nailer to save her instead of leaving her to die. However, the problems aren't over for Nailer, through the window of the ship, they see his father and his crew walking along the beach toward the ship. Nailer’s father, Richard Lopez, to say the least, was not as nice as Nailer, and would definitely not be pleased when he found out that Nailer saved Lucky Girl. Richard would not keep Lucky Girl alive if it meant that he would gain the rights to the scavenge. This leaves Nailer with two options once again, stay and turn in Lucky Girl to his father and share the wealth, or risk his life, run away from his father and everything he ever knew just to save a girl he just met. The only way to escape his father, is to jump onto a moving train and reach freedom or risk staying behind.


This decision shows that we may have to make decisions that may be risky now but in the long run, will keep us safe. Nailer must jump onto a moving train, with many different ways to fall off and get caught in the wheels, but if he sticks the landing, he'll be able to ride the train to freedom away from his father. However, he can stay behind and risk fighting his father back on the island and not have to worry about risking his life on a literal “leap of faith."Nailer knows that it would be better for him in the long run to just make a little risk now, so after that, he'll be free from the wrath of his father. Another reason Nailer sticks out to me as such a great protagonist is the sheer guts that he displays, I can't even count how many times I've had a great idea that would soon be put down to my overthinking of the topic when in reality, all I needed was to follow my initial instinct.


Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is a great story that displays many difficult decisions that we may face in our lifetime. We don't have to necessarily run away from home, but the process of thinking that Nailer uses to make his decisions could be used by all of us. Nailer being a great role model in multiple aspects of life, that overused persona of someone who grew up in a tough environment but still pushed through and made the best of the situation and still strived to be the best person he could possibly be.


How can decision making like Nailer affect your life?

Find out more about the author here


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