Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea
By: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books

In Carnegie Medal winning Salt to the Sea, three teenagers meet in the final days of War World II as they flee for safety while the Nazi empire is falling. Emilia, Florian, and Joana make their way to the ship Wilhelm Gustloff for hopes of safety and security. Another teen, a nazi soldier named Alfred, prepares the Wilhelm Gustloff to set sail.

The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff was one of the worst maritime tragedies, but many of us don’t know about it. Ruta Sepetys set out to change that in Salt to the Sea. The premise of the book is amazing and cruel, as we follow along with teenagers doing everything they can to make it a ship that we know will sink.

Told from varying point of views, this fast paced young adult novel shows the horrifying life many youth faced during the Second World War. The Germans and Russians are committing evil acts to everyone they encounter, and freedom from both is all that anyone wants. The three travelers come together as they are making their way through the woods to seek refuge and freedom. We get to know each character along the way and experience their trauma first hand. They all have secrets they are carrying, and each secret comes out along the way, making for a suspenseful and page turning ride.

This book is bathed in realistic views of the hard life of war. Sepetys spent years researching and traveling for this book, and the results of her research come to life this book. The scenery is vivid, the fear is real, and the reality of war is harsh. Sepetys’ world building abilities, paired with the pacing of the book, makes this an amazing book for young adults. It also shows what our youth are capable of doing when their lives depend on it.

I could not put down this book, and I devoured it in just a few days. Teachers will be able to weave this book into the curriculum easily, and the paperback edition comes with interviews and lesson plans that teachers and students will enjoy.

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