Over the next ten weeks I will be reading and reviewing the shortlisted books for the inaugural YA Book Prize. I’m thrilled that the diverse and thriving UK YA scene is being celebrated. I’m also thrilled to be introduced to some authors I’ve (scandalously) never heard of before.
Salvage is about families and the many ways in which they can break. Cass is the adopted daughter of a high-profile politician having a very high-profile marriage breakdown. When suddenly Cass’ adopted family is a subject of national news, Cass is inundated by unwelcome attention – but then she gets a Facebook message from someone claiming to be her long-lost brother. Could this be a chance to rebuild a family, as the one she has called her own falls apart around her?
Gripping from the beginning, Salvage is full of great characters to root for. Cass and Aidan are in many ways complete opposites: control and chaos. Despite the years of isolation and resentment, their budding sibling relationship provides them with glimpses into the lives they could have had. Aidan is the catalyst that allows Cass to let down her shields for once, while for Aidan, finding Cass is the one thing he’s done right in years. In a story full of broken families, Cass and Aidan are unconventional siblings but nevertheless incredibly important to each other.
The exploration of family and the complexity of things it can mean is deftly done. Barely a scene goes by that does not illuminate someone’s relationship with someone else. The Montgomerys are in turns endearing and frustrating – I’m particularly fond of Cass’ little brother Ben and his obliviousness to social mores.
It would be amiss of me to review Salvage without mentioning Will Hughes, who deserves to go down as one of YA’s Very Best Boyfriends. Romance subplots often leave me cold, but I had to refrain from punching the air when Will and Cass finally kissed. Their relationship is one of the highlights of the book, and Will is never less than sensitive, attentive and kind. More of these positive relationship models, please! Aidan and Holly are also lovely, and Aidan’s unconditional love for Holly’s little boy, Finn, is an unwavering bright spot in what can be a bit of a muddle of a character.
I could wax lyrical about the excellent cast some more, and Salvage definitely works as a character piece – the dual first person narration can be difficult to justify, but here it’s effective in portraying two very different worlds in the process of colliding. It’s gritty and sincere. It’s about the real work of relationships. It’s also a perfectly paced thriller in the final act, when we start to find out our character’s secrets, and the lengths they will go to to hide them. The build-up to the climax is one of the tensest things I have ever read, and I was convinced that something was going to go horribly wrong and I would have to throw the book across the room.
Was I right? You’ll just have to find out. It’s a complicated, emotional ride, but one well worth taking.