EDIT: I somehow originally never said in this review that the cover is whitewashed. It’s clearly stated in the book that Ava has dark skin (in fact, the bulk of the main characters are dark-skinned), but the girl on the cover is super white. I can’t believe this escaped me when I grabbed the cover for this review. The rest of the review still stands.
“They threw you out,” she says. “That doesn’t mean you’re worthless. It only means they didn’t see your worth.”
I am basically always going to be obsessed with YA that predominately features interesting, diverse female characters, and holy crap you guys. Salvage by Alexandra Duncan is a home run in that regard. It’s super feminist and I’m not actually sure any of the main characters are white.
Ava has lived her entire life on a highly patriarchal spaceship. Women don’t fix things, they don’t read or know even basic math, and they’re locked in their quarters every night. Ava – a natural mechanic that taught herself addition and subtraction – has questions about the way of life on her conservative ship, but has never stepped too far out of line. Instead, she fits in best she can, which is sometimes difficult since she has darker skin than anyone else on her ship and sometimes people still whisper about her black hair being a curse.
When Ava does step out of line, she does it in a major way, and has to run away to Earth to find her aunt in Mumbai or face certain death. She ends up on the ship of a single mother and abuse survivor. Perpétue captains her own ship, has no problem taking care of herself, and has taught her daughter, Miyole, to be independent and smart. They are everything that Ava thought a woman could never be.
And she struggles with it! She’s been raised in this very strict world, so it’s natural that she would be confused and would struggle with anyone going outside what she was taught. She is not automatically a strong feminist. She has to watch and learn and make the choices that lead her down that path, until she can stick up for herself and feels confident going after what she truly wants.
Too often, we’re shown a female protagonist who is maybe academically smart and dresses in an understated, practical way, and to drive home the point that she’s Good, we’re giving a woman of her opposite – someone who doesn’t do well in school and is super feminine – and she is made out to be Bad, like there’s only one way to be a woman in the world of that book or movie.
Salvage thinks that’s bullshit, and so do I. Ava loves fixing machines and math, but she finds that she hates formal academics. Miyole, meanwhile, wants nothing more than to go to school and study as much as she can and do brilliant things. Ava doesn’t really care much about clothes one way or the other, but her aunt and Miyole love clothes shopping and being feminine. And they all just are who they are. Ava isn’t better than Miyole because she wants to learn a practical trade and dress practically. Miyole isn’t better than Ava because she wants to wear pretty clothes and study. They find their own way.
This post is totally mostly about how awesome the characters and feminism and diversity of the book are, but I should note that the plot and the world? Also really gorgeous and interesting. I loved basically every part of this, and I bet you guys would, too. SO GO READ IT.