Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

salt to the sea

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys will be published on February 2, 2016 by Penguin.

Below is a must-watch video of Ruta Sepetys describing her book. Many thanks to Penguin Teen for providing it.

 

The first thing I want to say is that I do not believe I can actually do this wonderful, beautifully haunting book justice with my review. I read it so quickly (in just over a day) because I couldn’t put it down. It was written for a young adult audience, but I firmly believe that adults would enjoy it just as much, if not so much more than young adults. I’ve read and enjoyed many works of WWII historical fiction, including (to name my favorites) The Storyteller, The Nightingale, and Sarah’s Key, but this book is now at the very top of my favorites list.

This isn’t just another WWII historical fiction based upon the Holocaust, but instead it is about a little-known disaster which affected over 10,000 people as they tried to desperately leave war-torn homelands in a race for survival. Much like the Holocaust, the sinking of the Wilhem Gustloff is horrifying and devastating. Unlike the Holocaust, however, history has chosen to keep this disaster quiet, even though it is the single greatest maritime disaster in history, much larger in terms of lost lives than the Titanic or the Lusitania.

Here are the facts: The Wilhem Gustloff, a former cruise ship, set out into the frigid waters of the Baltic Sea on the evening of January 30, 1945. The ships capacity was 1,463, but there were actually 10,573 passengers on board. Of these, it is estimated that there were over 5,000 children. Other large groups of passengers on board included injured German soldiers and pregnant or new mothers with infants. The ship was equipped for 22 lifeboats, but only 12 were actually on the ship when it set sail. Around 9:15 PM, about 25 nautical miles offshore, the Wilhem Gustloff was struck by 3 Russian torpedoes and completely sunk within 1 hour after being hit. A total of 9,343 people perished, either on the ship or floating in the dark, icy waters of the unforgiving Baltic Sea.

It’s very clear that the author extensively and thoroughly researched the historical events retold in the story. She stayed true to historical fact. There are author’s notes and research & sources sections at the back of the book which are interesting and also heartbreaking to read. They give details from actual survivors, as well as stories from family members of those who didn’t survive the tragedy.

The pace of the book is quick, with short chapters, switching back and forth between 4 different young character’s points of view. Joana, a young nurse from Lithuania, Emilia, a young Polish girl, Florian, a young Prussian art restorer and forger, and Alfred, a German sailor with high regard for himself, but little regard for others. Each of these young people have a past haunting them and a future completely based upon trying to survive the war and evacuate before it’s too late. Their paths cross on the way to the Wilhem Gustloff. All but Alfred have suffered great loss at the hands of Hitler and the war. The characters are all from different nations, youth who have had to leave everything behind and suffer great loss, though they held no part in causing such catastrophe and strife. Joana, Emilia, Florian, along with an old shoemaker known as Poet, a 5 year old orphaned boy named Kraus, a blind girl named Ingrid, and a large, loud woman named Eva form a makeshift family, as they stick together on their way to the port. Each has only a tiny shred of hope, but together they are capable of loving and caring for one another, even when they thought they had nothing left to give. The relationships between the characters is heartbreaking, real, and so very beautiful. I will never forget them or their stories.

I cannot say enough about this wonderful book. I would encourage you to read it and pass it on to as many people as you can, so that those affected by this tragedy are never forgotten. As Ruta Sepetys says, “When the survivors are gone, we must not let the truth disappear with them. Please, give them a voice.”

 

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Two If By Sea by Jacquelyn Mitchard

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Two If By Sea will be published March 15, 2016 by Simon & Schuster.

This book was intriguing, and while it kept my interest for the most part, at times I almost gave up on finishing it. In the end, I’m glad I finished it, but at times I wasn’t sure where the story line was going as the plot went through some very slow periods. The premise of the story is a bit haunting, and the characters surely make a lasting impression on the reader, with their unique abilities and personalities.

The story begins on Christmas day in Brisbane, Australia, with former police officer turned horse trainer, Frank Mercy, stepping out onto his patio in the middle of the night just before a tsunami crashes the coastline, killing his young wife Natalie, their unborn son, and Natalie’s entire family in one fell swoop. A grieving, and mostly in shock, Frank joins his fellow volunteer rescuers, working nonstop to try to save others, even though he wasn’t there to save his own family. He stumbles upon a van, just about to be swallowed up by water, where he saves a young boy. Something about the boy flips a switch in Frank, and he decides that he will do anything to keep the boy safe.

Instead of taking the boy to the Red Cross station, Frank decides to go against the law (even as a former police officer), asking a friend to forge travel documents so that he can leave with the child, to move back to his family horse farm in Wisconsin. Though nervous that he could be caught, Frank is happy with the young boy and the boy seems happy to be with Frank, living at the family farm with Frank and his mother Hope, and helping Frank with chores. Then, strange events start to happen, and Frank suspects there is a group trying to find the boy, Ian, because of his unique abilities. Frank has already realized by this point that Ian has a telepathic gift which allows him to influence other’s actions and steer them in a positive direction.

To thicken the plot a bit, along comes Claudia, a young psychiatrist and horse jockey who catches Frank’s eye. And, it turns out that Ian does have a bit of family alive back in Australia, which makes things interesting as well. You’ll have to read it to find out what else happens, because I will not give away any spoilers.

Like I mentioned, there were times when I wasn’t sure how the author was going to really finish this story, and I wondered what kind of outcome I would prefer for closure sake. I did enjoy the book, but it wasn’t one of my favorites. I didn’t really like the ending. I think it was too happy of an ending for such a dramatic book. Fans of Oprah’s Book Club picks would surely enjoy this book. The book has family drama, romance, a bit of comedy, and suspense at times, which is appealing for a wide range of fiction readers. Give it a try. Let me know what you think!