Friday, January 24, 2014


I didn't love Salvage, a young adult novel by Alexandra Duncan, but I found it interesting nonetheless. Ava is a girl who's never touched foot on Earth. In fact, to do so would be to destroy her soul, according to the belief system aboard the Parastrata trader ship. Women are too delicate for Earth and anything requiring brain work, though not too delicate for hard menial labor and bearing children. Ava has it better than some. She's top of the ranks of unmarried girls, daughter of the captain, and of marriageable age. She will be married off in a trade agreement with another crew and ship. Ava only hopes it will be to a more lenient kind of crew where women can do mechanical work, which she has learned in secret. But suddenly her world comes crumbling down around her, and her only hope is to escape to the one place where she will likely die.

This book so cleverly describes a cult without ever using the word. Slowly, Ava discovers that nearly everything she's known was meant to oppress her. That's not to say her life becomes all sun and roses. That's not to say she won't still encounter grief and betrayal. But the story is about coming of age and deciding your own fate in a world where injustice has many faces.

It's science fiction, but the focus isn't on that. It really is about Ava's journey. However, it doesn't try to hammer the reader with a message either. It's simply Ava's story, narrated from her point of view. There's a bit of romance, a bit of adventure and discovery. There's a bit about the dynamics of family relationships and about choosing family when the one that's yours has thrown you out. In some ways, it's heavy stuff, but it never crosses that line into being a self-help guide. It's never preachy. I kept expecting it, but it didn't go there.

I didn't love it for various reasons, most small. (SPOILER follows) The biggest is probably that Ava has sex with a boy when she knows it's taboo. Ava is a minor rule-breaker, but I found it hard to believe that someone who grew up in such a sheltered, rule-laden community would commit one of the greatest crimes for a woman without considering the consequences. And she does consider the consequences somewhat, but it's not enough to stop her, and I think a person in her situation would have stopped before going that far. It just didn't ring true for me. (SPOILER ends)

Other that that, the strangeness of Ava's life and speech just threw me off a bit, and I didn't connect with her right away. A few other plot points seemed abrupt or contrived sometimes.

I did, however, appreciate the Earth settings, including Mumbai. Even though the setting is somewhat futuristic, it still feels authentically like what I imagine India to be like from what I know.

I appreciated the end of the book and Ava's journey to freedom. But minor plot and flow issues in the story keep me from giving this more than a three-star, "liked it" rating. This book will be available in April.

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