A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Salvage is a well-written sci-fi novel that grapples with sexual liberation and misogyny. The heroine struggles with shame and guilt over a consensual sexual act with devastating consequences: Ava's growth requires her to reject the fundamentalist, patriarchal ways of her people. The obvious parallels between Ava's tribal people and present-day religious groups may be problematic for some families, and men generally are portrayed as controlling and threatening, with one important exception. The treatment of sexual violence and intimidation is skillful and thought-provoking. The publisher recommends this for ages 13 and up, but we think it's better suited for a slightly older audience. Young teens might not be quite ready for the sad, real-world truths that underlie the novel. Still, it's a terrific selection for sparking discussions about feminism, gender politics, sexuality, and world events.
What's the story?
Ava, 16, was raised on a merchant ship in space, carrying out her duties and heeding the rules for women in her conservative, patriarchal "crewe." When it's time to marry into another crewe, she's thrilled to reunite with her friend Luck. But the pair presumes too much, and their intimacy before the ceremony leads to disgrace: Ava's family coldly prepares to eject her into space, and Luck is badly beaten by his father. A relative helps Ava flee to Earth, where she's taken in by Perpétue, a flight captain and single mom living with her daughter, Miyole, on a trash heap in the Pacific. Tragedy sends Ava and the girl to seek Ava's aunt in Mumbai, where the two get a helping hand from a young man named Rushil. Shame and doubt about her own worth hamper Ava's quest to build a better life for herself and Miyole.
Is it any good?
SALVAGE is a challenging read, both in terms of the writing style and the book's nuanced treatment of sexual themes, but it will richly reward teens who make the effort. Ava is almost unlikable at the story's start. Once her defenses are brutally torn down, she's like any young teen on the cusp of womanhood, though in extraordinary circumstances. Debut author Alexandra Duncan's heroine is a welcome addition to the male-dominated sci-fi genre.
The strong feminist narrative may strike some readers as polemical. But the strength, kindness, and respect Ava discovers in Rushil outshines the crass men who prowl through the pages and leads to a more hopeful outlook. The sexual content is thoughtfully and sensitively treated. It may be a lot for some readers to handle, especially young teens who aren't yet fully aware of sexism and gender-related violence. Still, the book's a terrific launching pad for far-ranging conversations on sexuality, sexism, religion, culture, and more. Parents might want to prepare by reading up on gender stereotypes and media.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about science fiction. Why is the genre so dominated by male authors and characters? What's different about Salvage?
What similarities do you see between the future world of Salvage and past and present cultures?
Do you think Ava's experiences with men on Earth and at the station are unusual or typical? What do you think of the women who participate in shaming and punishing Ava?
- Author: Alexandra Duncan
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Space and Aliens
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Greenwillow Books
- Publication date: April 1, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 18
- Number of pages: 528
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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