Book Review: Salt to the Sea

salt-to-seaTitle: Salt to the Sea

Author(s): Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Philomel Books

Genre: Historical

Rating: 5 out of 5

Wow, did this book make me CRY! I don’t often cry because of a book, but Salt to the Sea pierced my heart deeply! Ruta Sepetys did not disappoint with her third novel. She continues to reign as the queen of young adult crossover historical fiction.

Salt to the Sea is the fictionalized version of the true but little-known tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that was meant to carry Germans fleeing the Soviets across the Baltic Sea to safety. Over 9,000 people are thought to have perished when the Gustloff was sunk by Soviet submarine torpedoes. That is more than the Titanic and the Lusitania combined.

True to form, Sepetys chooses to experience this tragedy through the eyes of youth. The magic of her storytelling is in the depth of personality she weaves into her characters. She takes the reader on a joyful journey of character development that makes the impending disaster loom ever more darkly along the way. We meet Joana, a young nurse from Lithuania who is compelled to help everyone she meets, driven by the guilt of her past; Florian, a teenage Nazi deserter with a stolen secret that burns in his pack; Emilia, a delicate but brave Polish girl with a sad history and a penchant for daydreaming; and Alfred, a selfish, cowardly, and frightened young soldier assigned to the Wilhelm Gustloff who writes letters to his crush…but only in his mind.

As the teens trek across snowy terrain toward the Baltic port where theGustloff is anchored, we slowly get drawn into each of their stories as secrets unravel and histories are revealed. We are also intrigued by the colorful layers of supporting characters who truly highlight
Ruta’s storytelling prowess.

The story of their journey is vivid and moving. The broader narrative of 10,000 refugees cramming onto the Wilhelm Gustloff is heart-wrenching. And then of course, the ultimate climax of the Gustloff’s sinking is breathtakingly tragic.

As with Sepetys’s other books, I’m left at the end feeling the weight and importance of storytelling in getting the truth of history out into the light. She brilliantly accomplished this in Between Shades of Gray, and has done so once again in Salt to the Sea.

Brave hearts and book-lovers, read this book! It is lyrical, stunning, tragic, and engrossing.

Review by Gabrielle Kelly.

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