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Christina Reads YA

"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis

Review: Salvage - Alexandra Duncan

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+) Ava, the protagonist - Oh, Ava. From the very first pages I was intrigued because she was haughty about being so girl and I knew that wasn't going to last. I was also intrigued by her curiosity, her boldness despite the harsh society in which she lived. And this determination carries throughout the book. I said something similar of the main character in Tin Star, but I'll say it again: It's hard not to respect and admire a character who goes through such tough circumstances and comes out alive and well and able to take care of not only herself, but another dependent.

2. (+) World-building - What distinguishes Salvage from other literary science fiction novels with empowering themes is its very unique settings. From the rigid gender-oriented decks of the Parastrata and some of the less rigid decks of other ships to the floating, kind community of the Gyre to futuristic Mumbai, this book is like no other YA novel that I've read in terms of the scope of its settings. It's also very easy to imagine the different jobs that someone could have in the various societies. And if Duncan ever chose to expand on this universe, I certainly wouldn't complain. There's a lot of world-building here, and a lot more that could still come too because it's so well-developed.

3. (+) Plot - The plot is part romance as Ava blossoms into a young woman with sexual urges, feels ashamed of her own sexuality, but learns to accept it against everything that she's been taught; part transformation story as Ava goes from being so girl on her father's ship to being a wanted refuge to being a capable, hard-working girl who has to take care of herself and another; part survival story as Ava has to fend for herself without ever having been taught how to read or write or do work that's practical on Earth; part space opera as it's clear that the Parastrata is not an isolated merchant ship but a small part of a larger organization of ships engaged in colonial trade (and that this is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, in terms of the world-building, if Duncan ever chose to expand on this world).

4. (+) Romance - What I, a romance junkie, liked most about the romance here was that it never interfered with who Ava was. It was always about choice, despite others trying to strip that from Ava. Even when the book does focus on romance, it doesn't take long for us to know the consequences - to feel that underlying tension - or realize what's looming on the horizon... and what romance is there is sweet and kind and tender.

5. (+) Discussion - This line says it all: "This is literary science fiction with a feminist twist, and it explores themes of choice, agency, rebellion, and family." What first drew me to this novel was the comparison to Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, especially since I had never seen a teen novel refer to that work. This book has a beautiful empowering feel and plenty to discuss on the above topics... and privilege. Duncan expertly points out the differences in class among all the societies that she's created and it's all so very real.

6. (+/-) Explanation - This was just a small distraction I'd had while reading. I wanted to know how the Parastrata came to be so rigid in its gender roles and origin stories and the like - like how Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale talks of how the women basically woke up one day and their rights were taken away, and slowly but surely this terrifying society was built & reliance on baby-bearing born. Of course Ava's character was not in much of a position to know this information, but that doesn't mean that I as a reader wouldn't crave it. Especially with such a highly advanced world (colonies? The Earthen technology) and well developed settings. Also is there no governing society with laws to ensure that these kind of infringements happen? I mean, all the merchant ships - if they are transporting goods to colonies, wouldn't there be some regulation? And the other crewes recognize how strange Parastrata's very rigid patriarchal society is. Anyway, none of this took away my enjoyment of the novel.

7. (+) Characters - This book is mostly character-oriented story for Ava, and not the rest, but it does take the time to develop other characters. And despite the fact that it's about Ava growing from her starting point in a severely male-dominated society, very rigid gender roles and all, it is the female characters that rule the day in this book. (For me at least and I loved the different strengths Duncan portrayed in them.)

8. (+) Writing - Science fiction novels sometimes have dry, futuristic writing, but not so here. Alexandra Duncan does a fantastic job at incorporating sensual details. She's also invented some brilliant slang for the futuristic world that never seemed too much to me and was easy to understand from the get-go. Readers who are wary of dialects ought to try an excerpt of the novel to see if it works for them too.

9. (+/-) Pacing - The one thing that kept me from enjoying this novel as much as I could have was its slow pacing. There's always something happening, to be sure, like world-building and character building and etc. etc. But since so much happens to Ava in the course of the novel, and with many different societies to explore, I felt the 500 page weight as I was reading.

10. (+) The Cover - Admittedly, I think this cover could depict the book and its unique settings better, but then again, they're so unique, I can imagine how hard that would be... and this cover is gorgeous as it is. Very eye-catching, some sci-fi, and a tagline that works to show the book as a whole.

Such unique settings (Parastrata the ship, the Gyre, and futuristic Mumbai!) and SO MUCH TO DISCUSS. If you're a teacher, it'd be GREAT to give this novel to your kids. This is the sort of novel that I wish I'd read in high school. I'm definitely going to look out for more from this author. Wonderful literary science fiction that I'd recommend to fans of Matched, Tin Star, and Across the Universe among others.

On the audience: The feel of this book - literary, personal growth, empowering, mostly focused on MC - reminds me of the feel in Not a Drop to Drink - there might be some crossover crowd there, despite the different topics. The epic scope of the world, plus the multiple plot threads, reminds me of Tin Star. Ava's character growth - the emphasis on choice and free will too - and some bits of the romance reminds me of that freeing feel in Matched. Ava's struggle to learn how to fit in Earthen society, compared to the sheltered world she'd known, might appeal to fans of Under the Never Sky, with Aria's character arc. There are also the obvious comparisons to Across the Universeand Starglass. The Edelweiss page also suggested that Salvage fit fans of The Handmaid's Tale - which I count myself among - and I would mostly agree with that assertion... but the timelines are kind of switched -- Offred's past is Ava's future, and there's more focus on how things came to be that way in THT. Still the comparison rings true.