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.
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.
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.