Historical Fiction · Review · Young Adult

Book Review: Salt to the Sea

I’m an emotional reader. I will laugh, cry, get angry right along with the characters of my book and it doesn’t take a lot for a book to pull that out of me. So when I found out one of my book clubs had chosen Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys as the BOTM for March, I just knew this was going to be one of those books where it ends with me crying bucket loads. Imagine my surprise when I never even shed a tear.

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.

I don’t think there is any question that this book is written beautifully. I loved the way Sepetys was able to capture 4 completely different POVs in a way that you could immediately differentiate between them. I never caught myself getting confused as to who was who because they all had their own distinctive voice. Which I think is one of the hardest things to do when it comes to writing and causes a lot of books with multiple POVs to sink, but Salt to the Sea never does. The language was perfection, as well. I found myself wanting to highlight sentence after sentence, but I have a strict no highlight policy when it comes to books so I just had to make do with writing it down in my notebook.

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The four POVs that tell our story – Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred, are all tied together but have very different backgrounds and secrets. I really enjoyed that each person had something that drove their story and really brought a bit of mystery to the story. I felt that these secrets made the characters more interesting because each seemed to be a bit of the cliché stereotypes you typically find in YA novels. Other than Alfred. That dude was definitely one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever read about. I won’t tell you why but just let you see for yourself what I mean. But I think this was one of my issues, I just never really connected with any of the characters. I felt a bit detached from the situation where I would normally be bawling my eyes out at the atrocities and tragedies that these kids were going through, and yet, I didn’t. It literally blows my mind how I was never completely engaged as a reader but that could just be a me thing.

The plot was fascinating and interesting as it revolves around the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, an actual WWII maritime tragedy that is relatively unknown. I’m a bit of a history buff and am obsessed with WWII movies and novels, and even I knew nothing about it until I read this book. Sepetys did a good job of giving us a full account of what it was like for the millions of people in Eastern Europe fleeing the incoming Soviet army, which is a different view than the typical Nazi occupation stories. So I was obviously enthralled with the storyline but I realize not everyone will enjoy historical fiction.

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I did have some trouble with the pacing of the story. There was an incredible amount of build-up to when our MCs actually get to the ship and then the climax came almost immediately and then it was over. Now, I realize that’s probably how it was when it really happened and Sepetys was only recreating how it occurred, but I felt the ending was just so hurried and wrapped-up that I wasn’t able to process what had happened. I would’ve liked just a little bit more and then I maybe would have been able to finally connect with the characters. I also was a bit confused by the epilogue. It was never formally introduced but just went from the ending chapter straight to it, and I had to reread it like 3 times to figure out what had just happened.

Salt to the Sea is a beautiful novel that tells an incredible story so few know about and a lot of people were completely blown away by it. However, while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I think there was a little something lacking that just kept it from receiving that 5th star. Maybe it was all of the hype surrounding it? Maybe it was that strange ending/epilogue? Maybe I just read it at the wrong time? Who knows. But I do encourage everyone to go and read it and learn about a part of history that shouldn’t be forgotten. Real people lived through it and deserve for their story to be known.

Final Verdict: 4/5 Stars

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Salt to the Sea

  1. Awesome review! I still haven’t managed to get around to reading it, but it still catches my eye. I’m really curious about this Alfred fellow, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I’ve read so many reviews that rave and rave about this book it is refreshing to read one that notices the books flaws. I really liked the book, but it took me about 200 pages to feel connected to any of the characters. I still don’t think Alfred’s point of view was necessary though. His plotline was absolutely fascinating, but I don’t feel like it fit with the other storylines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I totally get what you mean about Alfred. He doesn’t mesh well with the other POVs and I’m not sure if Sepetys was trying to do that since he’s a Nazi or whatever. I think that’s why I was so fascinated by his story though, because he was such a major contrast to the other characters or it could just be that we had to wait so long to finally find out his secret. I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who had trouble connecting with the characters. I was so afraid it was just a me thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been really looking forward to this book and yet still haven’t gotten my hands on it! Ugh. Anyway, one of the things that I really loved about reading Between Shades of Gray was that it focused on the Soviet side of WWII which I had literally never learned about. I knew that the Soviets were involved, obviously, but had never read anything about it. I’m looking forward to learning about the Wilhelm Guftloff whenever I finally read this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s kind of one of those parts of the war that most people tend not to focus on or know as much about, so I really enjoyed learning a bit more about it. I haven’t gotten to read Between Shades of Gray yet but I want to now after reading this one! I hope you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

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