Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: 2016 by Philomel Books
Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.
”Guilt is a hunter. My conscience mocked me, picking fights like a petulant child.”
Ruta has done it again. Every time I read one of her books, I am emotionally transported into a breathtaking story that breaks my heart and opens my eyes. I’m not trying to sound dramatic either. From Between Shades of Gray, with its tragic truth that many do not realize about WWII, to Out of the Easy, with its tale of redemption and ambition in a seemingly dead-end life, Ruta always manages to scare me into reality, but remind me of the joy, hope, and love there is in life, no matter the circumstances.
Therefore, I knew going into Salt to the Sea that I would adore it, and I did. This review will in no way, shape, or form do any good at describing how wonderful of a book this is. Therefore, take my words of advice and the knowledge that I have decent taste in books, and go find yourself a copy!
This is the story of four teenagers who end up on the same path in life, heading towards assumed salvation from the Soviets during WWII. Many refugees are fleeing through the Nazi-controlled countryside near the end of WWII, attempting to get to the coast and freedom from the Soviets. Several large ships are waiting to take the refugees to safety. The story is told from all four perspectives, which at first I thought would be highly annoying. However, the chapters are short and it cycles from one point of view to the next quickly enough so that you never get too used to one person. Each of the four main characters have mysterious pasts that are slowly revealed throughout the novel. They are all running from something and towards something better, at least in their minds. The story takes them from their beginning journeys all the way to the tragedy on the ship. I do not want to say much about the plot, because that will take away from the excitement of seeing the story play out.
Going into this story, I had no idea about this disaster during the war. I did a little bit of research afterwards to know more about it, and it is truly the worst. I cannot believe the biggest boat disaster I knew about was the Titanic. Maybe because this happened during wartime, it is more overlooked. Anyways, I would recommend not looking up too much about the event before reading the book, just so the story is still a bit of a surprise.
I absolutely loved how Ruta introduces the reader to each character throughout the book. With the changing perspectives, first person narratives, and interwoven stories, each spoke into each other’s lives and interacted together to create beautiful growth of character. I felt like I knew each of them as well as they wanted me to know them, and that I learned much from their stories. I love how in each book of hers, Ruta does not shy away from the harsh realities of life, but shows how those hard moments can still have glimmers of truth and victory.
I will never stop reading what Ruta Sepetys writes because she has yet to write a book that does not deeply draw me in and teach me about history and life. She writes with such talent and beauty, that you soak up every word on the page as you read, and that is the mark of a good writer and a good storyteller.
Content Warnings: Nothing to worry about except maybe mild language.
I am going to YALLFest in November in Charleston, SC, and I am SO EXCITED because Ruta Sepetys is going to be there, and I am going to get to meet her!! (Unless something crazy happens!)
Look for an upcoming YALLFest post in a few weeks!!