[637]: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys


Salt to the Sea

by Ruta Sepetys

Books about wars from any period tend to leave a lasting effect on me. Stories about the struggle, the hunger, the pain, and anger stay longer than I’d care to admit. Mostly, I’m overcome with admiration to the characters; it had me thinking about how I could never have survived  had I lived in that era. I’m particularly drawn to stories about World War II. Two years ago, I was completely enamored with Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Michael Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Then, last year, I discovered Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena; it’s not set in the same time period, but just as affecting regardless. It was a book set during the Chechen war. But these books have one thing in common: they were written by authors who has an uncanny ability to transform horrific tales into something beautiful. Salt to the Sea was no different.

Book Description

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one 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.

One of the reasons that I enjoy reading books in this genre is that it affords me  the opportunity to learn something. Before starting this, I knew nothing about Wilhelm Gustloff or the “Amber Room”. After I wiped the snot dripping off my nose, I took to the trusty Wikipedia and did a bit of side reading.  It did indeed happen. For a moment or two, I felt the same indignance Ms. Sepetys felt for the way we’ve dismissed this disaster. We certainly haven’t given it the same reverence as we do the Titanic. And I know it’s tough considering who were on the ship to begin with. But we need to remember that they were mostly refugees and victims of war and that they, too, deserve to be remembered.

Reading historical fiction is not always going to be an easy read. More often, they tend to be heavy on the narrative and dry. Salt to the Sea is not the kind of historical fiction, however. Sepetys’ writing has a one-sitting type of reading quality. The pacing was swift and not at all inundated by the four-person points of view.  She set up the novel in such a way that readers would have a heavy weight on their chests, ominously waiting for that looming heartbreak.  There was sporadic humor that felt out of place, but I felt was necessary. It made the story even more endearing.

And of course, the characters. Oh, these lovely characters! They were full of life, and love. Despite the hopelessness of their situation, this motley crew was one of the most compelling band of characters I’ve read in a long time. They looked out for each other, bonded by the will to survive.  There were romance and stories of their lives before the war.  They were heartbreaking, poignant and gorgeous – but mostly, sad. Box of tissues required.


  • Adriana C

    I still haven´t read any of Ruta Sepetys books so I need to read one of them soon. An about historical fiction I almost always end up reading the actual event on wikipedia. :p
    Great review Joy!

  • Sounds like this was a moving read Joy. Love it when an author teaches you something about history like this. Great review!

  • The best book I ever read in this time period was The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah. I don think I could read this one though. I take it everyone dies? I can no longer read ones like that. I just can’t. I didn’t even see Titantic until it had been out for several years. I am glad though that this was a good one for you!

  • I normally avoid books with more than dual perspectives, but I’ll give this a try since I love historical fiction, especially when it makes you want to research more. I also like the time period of WWII and know a little bit about the events that occurred during this time – at least if it was relevant to Canadian history – but have never heard about this tragedy. So, I’m excited to learn something too.

  • I just bought this one recently and can’t wait to read it. I’ve heard countless good things about it and Ruta Sepetys’ writing in general. I love historical fiction and I’m sure this one will be right up my alley.

  • I have a signed copy of this book sitting on my bookshelf…unread. I can’t even believe that I still haven’t read this book. I went to the book signing and was so impressed with Ruta Sepetys. When she talked about how she researched this book and showed slides, I was so completely impressed. I am glad that you loved it, Joy! Wonderful review!

    Carole @ Carole’s Random Life

  • I’ve heard so many fantastic things about Salt and the Sea, and the characters just sound absolutely amazing! It’s not my favourite genre because of how heavy it is to read, but the 4 person point of view and humour definitely sound like it paid off here. Lovely review Joy!

  • thefashionfolks

    Have to read this book, wrote it down on my reading list!! Xx


  • I SO adored this book – loved just about everything about it. I was really worried at first that the super short chapters would be distracting, but it didn’t feel that way to me at all. I actually ended up loving that the story was told that way!

  • I’m sure this story is amazing, but I hate sad or hopeless endings. I’d have to be emotionally prepared to be destroyed and most of the time I’m not up for wrecking. Wonderful review and love the pic, Joy. 🙂

  • This book was so sad! I knew it was going to be sad, but near the end I was hoping for it to be somehow resolved so the characters end up happy. I didn’t like the romance however, and I wasn’t a fan of the characters. What did you think about the narrative? I didn’t like it, and made me feel emotionally disconnected from the characters <3

  • OMG, this book destroyed Nick and I. I don’t read books like this but I picked up the audio and fell in love with this damn book.

  • Denise Baer

    I’m looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the review.

  • I’m reading this over the summer! I really enjoyed BSoG so looking forward to reading this!

  • Maja (The Nocturnal Library)

    Oh yes! I just finished this recently and I still can’t get over how amazing and heart-wrenching it was. Ruta is kind of magical, isn’t she? And I always learn so much form her! I love that you loved this.

  • Yesss 😀 I’m so so happy that you loved this book Joy. <3 Gorgeous review. I also liked it a whole bunch 😀 So hearbreaking. Yesss. And sad. And awesome too 😀 I want more books from this time period. More YA books set in it. Sigh. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it sweetie 🙂

  • AHHHHHH I need to hurry and read this, dang it. I’m glad to hear it isn’t a ‘heavy’ historical. I like those too, but not really feeling it for this one.

  • “After I wiped the snot dripping off my nose, I took to the trusty Wikipedia and did a bit of side reading” THIS. I did the same when I read Between Shades of Gray by the same author, which I can totally recommend to you knowing (pretty sure) that you will like it!

  • I’m eagerly rubbing my hands together because this is a book I definitely need to check out during my next library visit. Honestly? I’m not all that familiar with it though. I think upon its release my feed just sort of blew up with reviews for this book, so I’ve mostly avoided it. I vaguely knew it was related to WWII, and that was about it. I’ll be interested to see if I’ll need a box of tissues too. Movies about WWII destrooooy me. (Like Boy in the Striped Pajamas [yes, I know this is a book]– totally ugly cried at the end). But, I’m a very stoic reader, so I’m not usually moved to tears.

  • Natalie

    I have this, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’m always interested in stories that take place during WWII…but have to be in the mood for them. Good to know this isn’t slow which is usually an issue I have with historical fiction.

  • I love a book with great characters. It is also great that you learn more about this time period. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Great review.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

  • Gorgeous review, Joy. I particularly like what you said about historical fiction, how it encourages you to go and learn more about the period being written about. War stories also have a particular attraction for me – something about the best and worst of humanity. All Quiet on the Western Front is probably one of my all-time favourites. I’ve had this one on my radar for a while – need to be in the right mood for this kind of story though!

  • Ooh, nice review, Joy! I’m glad I caught it, since I was especially keen to read your thoughts on this one- you were almost speechless about it, as I recall! I do rather like the sound of this one, although I wouldn’t necessarily have thought so after reading the blurb, since I don’t tend to gravitate towards historical fiction. But the reviews I’ve seen for this are just stunning, and they make me want to step out of my genre-comfort zone and give it a go. Being about something that isn’t as well known as, like you say, the Titanic and other historical disasters, I’m interested for my own sake, as well, to learn more about something that I’ve not really heard of before, besides looking it up after reading reviews. I imagine that will make this story fairly hard hitting, but I think that’s an important element.

    I also really like the fact you describe it as having a “one-sitting quality” because, being someone who reads very little historical fiction, I might be a little concerned about the topic being so weighty it held down the plot and characters. It definitely sounds like that doesn’t happen here.

    I’m keen to get to this, now, Joy. I can’t wait to see how I go with it. x

  • This one is so high up on my TBR Joy after I seen it on Nick and Nere’s blog and I can’t wait to crack it open even more so now. I actually tend to enjoy historicals set during WWII or in particular The French Revolution. Even with fictional characters, it just drives home how lucky some of us are to live without war or conflict in our parts of the world and see what others who aren’t so lucky still endure. I can’t wait to read it. Wonderful review Joy <3 <3

  • Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I love Sepetys’s writing and, like you, I enjoy historical fiction so much because it gives me a chance to read about time periods I don’t know a lot about. But, I am so not in the mood to need a box of tissues right now. I just finished my finals so perhaps I’ll pick this one up a little later this summer when I’m ready for it. I’m glad you’re a fan, Joy! 🙂

  • I don’t mind historical novels, it’s the ones set during world wars that doesn’t appeal to me. The logistics flies over my head and the human suffering to too great to bear at times. I’ve seen enough WW docus to make things vivid. That said I want to read this!

  • Yep, you described why I loved her other book. So glad she educates while entertains here as well. I am so going to have to read this one soon.

  • I can’t remember the last book I read of this premise. Seems like an interesting story though, and I like that the characters were full of life. As usual, wonderful review.

  • I do think that this tragedy needs more (or the same) attention than (as) the Titanic because of the reasons you mentioned. One of the things why I enjoy reading historical fiction is because I get to know time periods not by memorizing details but by relieving them.

  • I did exactly the same thing that you did soon after I finished this one. I went ahead and read more about it on the internet and felt frustrated that this wasn’t a part of history that is known and thought about. I’m very grateful to Ruta Sepetys for helping me learn something though.
    I love your description of the characters. They were so so beautiful and hopeful. They were definitely a memorable bunch for me and I will revisit them again in the future, even if it will crush my soul.
    If you’re going to do a re-read I highly recommend the audiobook. The narrators were terrific, especially the one for Emilia. She captured her strength and innocence beautifully!
    Lovely review, Joy!

  • Melliane

    It sounds like a great one there and I totally get you when you speak about this period, it’s the same for me

  • I’m definitely going to have to pick this up!

  • Jasprit

    I’ve only read one book previously by Sepetys, but I absolutely loved it, her writing is just something else. I did get the audiobook of this one, but now I’m considering getting a paperback, because it sounds like too good of a book to be missed out on! Lovely review Joy! 🙂

  • I loved this book so much. I love historical fiction because like you said, you get to learn something while enjoying the story, and it is just so emotional. I don’t think many other books touch me as much as WWII and other historical fiction books do.

    Anyways, I am really REALLY happy you loved this Joy! I knew nothing about the Wilhelm Gustloff until I read this book!

  • It looks a very good book. I’m not into historical fiction very much, though, and when I read it, I read very slowly so I pick my reads well. Great review!!:)

  • This one was already on my I WANT IT NOW list but it is even more so on there. I love my historical fiction, and it seems like this is about an event that is not given nearly enough attention. It seems to be about history an era which was horrible and hard to imagine ourselves surviving, but then also could reach into the present day in relation to many of these people being victims of war and refugees while we have the migrant crisis. I’m glad you could learn something and was beautifully written even if it did break your heart.

  • shootingstarsmag

    I’m so glad to hear you loved this one. I’m fascinated by stories that take place during WWII, and since this focuses on a topic that people don’t talk about, it makes it even MORE interesting to me.


  • Your reviews always leave me speechless lol… Like I should just run out and grab that book (and that box of tissue). I’m super curious about the historical element in this one. Thanks for the lovely review 🙂

  • I love LEARNING when I’m reading as well! As l ing as it’s told in a certain way to where its not like, THROWN in my face, I’m okay with it. 🙂 I’ glad this book was that for you and SO MUCH MORE. 🙂

  • kindlemom1

    I love reading in this time period as well and I’ve seen so many great reviews for this. So happy you loved it too and you’ve completely convinced me I need to read it too.

  • Jenny @ Supernatural Snark

    I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this one Joy, I can’t wait to finally read it. I’m working my way up to it and stocking up on kleenex and chocolate:) I always love learning something when I read too, and I’m looking forward to my post-reading research!

  • Jazmen

    Everybody and I mean everybody loves this book. Despite my aversion to historical fiction–I might give this one a try. Nice review, Joy!

  • ChristinaBookAddict

    Awesome review! I ugly cried when I read this book…it was so powerful and memorable. I am glad you enjoyed it as well. Sepetys is such an incredible author.

  • Wonderful review – this book definitely requires the tissues. I loved it. It’s heartbreaking, but so so good.
    Have you read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah? I ugly cried with that one. But it’s really good.

  • You’ve convinced me utterly! I’ll be picking this one up very soon. WWII backgrounds, or any kind of war background, are such powerful backdrops.

  • Rabiah

    I REALLY need to get my hands on this one. I loved her other book, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, and this one should be amazing as well. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Great review 😀

    Rabiah @ Confessions of a Readaholic

  • Oh no! crying book!