“Salt to the Sea” by Ruta Sepetys blows me away

I rate this book five out of five stars


Christoph Rieger

Ruta Sepetys, the author of four YA historical fiction novels including “Salt to the Sea”, in Berlin in 2016. “File:Ruta Sepetys on September 9, 2016 on the forecourt of Haus der Berliner Festspiele in Berlin.jpg” by Christoph Rieger is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Elise Wood, Reporter

“Salt to the Sea” is a YA book written by Ruta Sepetys. It’s historical fiction and is described as “crossover” because both adults and teenagers read it. It follows the story of four young adults during World War II, trying to escape from danger in their home countries and get to safety.

“Salt to the Sea” is unusual because rather than focus mainly on the Nazis and Holocaust, it also describes the horrors people suffered at the hands of the USSR and the dilemma many people faced when they were trapped between the two powers. I think that this makes this book very important, since these people are often forgotten, and they need to be remembered as well as the victims of the Holocaust.

There are four narrators in the book, Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred. Joana is a Lithuanian young woman who was trained as a nurse and wanted a future in medicine that, as a result of the war, she could not have. She repatriated to Germany to escape the USSR in Lithuania, but now has to flee.

There is also Florian, an East Prussian, who comes from a culture that largely disappears during the war and is escaping the Nazis who he unknowingly assisted. Emilia is Polish. She fled her hometown of Lwów for safety from the Nazis, but then faced the USSR in the town she was hiding in. Alfred is a young Nazi who seems to be a little off mentally throughout the entire book. It’s an unusual but interesting point of view.

When all of their paths cross, the plot quickly becomes complex and interesting, and it makes you think about people differently.

“Salt to the Sea” also describes the sinking of the “Wilhelm Gustloff,” a tragedy far worse than the sinking of the “Titanic” but forgotten in the chaos of the war. The “Wilhelm Gustloff” was carrying about 10,000 refugees to safety but sank after attack by USSR torpedoes.

This is a beautifully written book that reminds us of the suffering and sacrifices of the past while still retaining hope and faith in humanity. It’s also increasingly important because it helps us remember the consequences of war and the courage of forgotten people.

“Salt to the Sea” is actually a companion book to Ruta Sepetys’s “Between Shades of Gray”. Although I loved both books, I liked the voice in “Salt to the Sea” more, and both could be read as standalone books although they are better read together.

This book would be an excellent choice for any YA reader or adult, although I wouldn’t recommend it for children because of some of the events in the story. It would be a great book for a book club, for someone who wants to learn more about World War II, or for anyone who wants a high quality book to read. 

One hard part about finding high quality historical fiction is that many books do not deal with violence in a way that isn’t written too graphically just for the sake of violence. Although there is some violence in “Salt to the Sea,” it is portrayed to accurately depict the lives of people during that time period and not just to include violence. It deals with the lives of people who would have been in similar situations respectfully, which is something I definitely look for in historical fiction.

This book was very well researched, to the point where reading it, I felt like I understood the culture of Europe before and during World War II much more accurately. This was important to me, because I think that well researched historical fiction is really important in helping us remember that history is a human story. “Salt to the Sea” gave fact based details that made the characters seem very real.

My favorite thing about this book is that the book ends on a hopeful note while still being realistic. This is one of my biggest expectations for good historical fiction, and this book did this very well. Although it realistically portrayed the tragedies that happened during the war, it also had themes about human kindness and generosity even in times like those in the book, and the story ended in a way that acknowledged both the hardships of the survivors and their hope for the future.

“Salt to the Sea” could be purchased on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores, or even at Walmart.

I definitely think that you should read this book, as long as you are a mature enough reader. If I had to give this book a movie rating it would be PG-13. I also noticed that although the voice of the writer in “Salt to the Sea” definitely impressed me, the voice in “Between Shades of Gray” was much less mature.

Because “Salt to the Sea” is the second book, I do wish that “Between Shades of Gray” was better written, because I think it would make both books even more enjoyable and informative to read.

However, I would still give “Salt to the Sea” a five star review. I think it’s an incredible book that paints the story of World War II refugees in a different light, gives you a new understanding of the struggles people faced during that time period, and will remind you of the consequences of our decisions and yet somehow also of human goodness.