By Darienne Stewart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Intriguing sci-fi tale tackles misogyny, sexual liberation.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The story is set in the future long after rising ocean levels have swallowed much of the land on Earth. The tribalism and fundamentalist beliefs of the merchant "crewes" invite comparison to present-day groups.
Salvage is an empowering read for girls in particular, and probably is an eye-opener for boys. Despite the futuristic setting, Ava's world will be familiar for teens today -- and so is the sexism she wrestles with daily. She doesn't quite fit in among her "crewe," and once she's on her own she's able to make better use of her talent for mechanics and math. The people who help her -- both in her escape and in her struggle on Earth -- are bold, compassionate, and respectful, and their sacrifices inspire Ava to keep striving.
Positive Role Models
Ava at first is an off-putting character: a haughty servant who's rude to her companions yet meekly obeys authority. She grows much more relatable as she comes to terms with life on Earth, doing her best to scratch out a life for herself and her friend Miyole. Ava grows increasingly assertive and resilient, though she's never immune to crippling self-doubt and worry. Her friend Rushil is compassionate and generous, putting himself at risk to help her and doing his best to respect her limits. Perpétue is an especially strong character, helping Ava find her footing in an unfamiliar culture.
Violence & Scariness
Women in the "crewe" live in fear of sexual violence and take care to avoid vulnerable situations. Ava faces being discarded into space while still alive as punishment for her behavior, and her partner is badly beaten and possibly killed. Another woman who comes to her aid is killed. Perpétue was left badly scarred from an attack by a man she ended up killing. Two characters are among many killed in a natural disaster. Another character recounts killing his oppressive father.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Ava has consensual intercourse once and is severely punished for it. She's deeply ashamed of herself, for her behavior runs counter to the way she was raised. Women in her "crewe" are taught to fear men and to avoid attracting unwanted attention and worse -- they share stories of careless women who have been raped and killed. Several men leer at Ava and make veiled propositions: that she could trade sexual favors for room and board, that she could work as a prostitute, that she could entertain another crewe. Ava kisses another boy twice; once she asks him to stop, and he does, and the second time she's a willing partner. There also are references to menstruation. An adult offers to help Ava get access to birth control.
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A few characters swear in frustration or anger: "damn," "hells," and "piss off." Ava refers to herself as a "whore," and another character calls her a "bitch." She learns to use her middle finger as a coarse gesture but doesn't know what it means.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Ava shares a beer with a friend. There are references to people spitting tobacco, drinking rice wine, and being "tar addicts." A drunk man propositions Ava and a relative.
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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.
Where to Read
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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
- Last updated: July 12, 2017
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