Book Review: Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

Posted February 19, 2014 by Lori in Books, Reviews / 2 Comments Tags: ,

I received this book for free from Around the World ARC Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Salvage by Alexandra DuncanSalvage by Alexandra Duncan
Series: Salvage #1
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-04-01
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 528
Format: ARC
Source: Around the World ARC Tours
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Salvage is a thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This is literary science fiction with a feminist twist, and it explores themes of choice, agency, rebellion, and family. Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean. This is a sweeping and harrowing novel about a girl who can't read or write or even withstand the forces of gravity. What choices will she make? How will she build a future on an earth ravaged by climate change? Named by the American Booksellers Association as a Spring 2014 Indies Introduce Pick.

Before starting Salvage, there wasn’t really much for me to go on and build expectations from except a few good ratings and the very basic summary. But I was still excited for a standalone YA sci-fi space book. I was a little cautious from the mention of The Handmaid’s Tale  because I was not a fan of that book at all, but everything else in the summary sounded exciting. So I jumped in. But I soon found out that the book wasn’t everything the summary had mentioned. And for me, it ended up being a struggle just to get through.

The beginning of the book takes place on Ava’s father’s ship in space. We get a good look at life aboard the Parastrata, especially what is expected of the females of the ship. This is where The Handmaid’s Tale similarities are seen. Women and girls are seen as the weaker gender, they are told what to do, when they can do it, they work only with clothing, cleaning, cooking, and caring for the children and animals. They are not allowed to speak up to men, roam the ship at night, join the men on trips to Earth, or choose who they marry. Men are married to more than one woman, sometimes much older men to teenage girls, and they are required to have children. It is frustrating to see women in such positions but I certainly understand it for the story. As we learn that Ava is the captain’s oldest daughter, I figured she might have special privileges, but she does not.  She is also interesting in regards to the rest of the people on board because her grandfather was from Earth and lived aboard the ship for only a few years. This causes her to have a different color hair and darker skin than the rest of the people on board. It seems most everyone on the Parastrata has red hair, even though some must marry onto the ship from other places so it seems hard to  believe that everyone else would have red hair except Ava, but they dye her hair to help her blend in. So it turns out that most people on the Parastrata are sexist, racist, and extremely sheltered. And it seems Ava doesn’t quite fit in. Not just because of her hair and skin colors, but because she wants to know more and do more than she’s allowed. And luckily, or not so, she’ll get the chance to see what life is like elsewhere.

And this is really where my problem with the book started. It just wasn’t exciting. There are extremely detailed passages for everything, the book is full of descriptions, but the action and excitement just weren’t there for me. When I see the genre is science-fiction, I expect big events or revelations or something. Throw in words like banishment, rebellion, death, betrayal, and thrilling into a summary and 500+pages of words, and I want something huge. And I kept waiting for it and waiting for it but it just never came. I realize that things did in fact happen in this book and I’ll admit that subtle books aren’t really my thing, but I wanted big action, a thrilling climax, and I never really got one. I did like the end, and admittedly not just because it was the end, but because I finally felt like the main character had learned something at that point. But I wish there had been some big scenes that could have lead up to that moment rather than just a realization from a character.

I do want to at least briefly cover several other aspects of the book before I end this review because even though the book was a bit boring for me, many other parts were good. As for characters, they were fine. None were particularly grabbing or favorites but they all did what they were meant to do on the page and they all mattered to the story. I appreciate that. The story was overall interesting, though it could have been a couple hundred pages shorter, as were many of the smaller moments. My favorites moments were the ones with Perpetue, seeing Ava adjusting to gravity, school with Miyole, and Ava learning about her childhood and family history. There were some great moments between characters and the writing was really solid. I do think this is a book that many people will like. I haven’t read Across the Universe so I cannot speak to that comparison but I think if you like The Handmaid’s Tale then you are more likely to like this one than I did and I would recommend you try this one.

Overall, this book just wasn’t what I was hoping for. With such a huge book I was hoping for a war or rebellion or a big revelation about the government or future or something. But really this is a story about one girl’s journey from her childhood home on board a very conservative spaceship to Earth, a different and completely unknown world to her. We see the character struggle with adapting both physically and mentally to a new environment and see her growth along the way right up to the last page of the book. If you enjoy books that are character driven with plenty of description instead of plot driven, you’ll enjoy this more than I did.

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