Salt to the Sea // Book Review

Anushka Agashe, Staff Writer

Today’s media is filled with tales, both true and made-up, of the horrors of World War II. There’s a good reason for this, but a stand-out in this genre is the novel Salt to the Sea by author Ruta Sepetys.

It revolves around the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the largest maritime disaster in history. Told from the point of view of four teenagers and young adults, it follows three refugees on their quest for freedom, as well as a young German officer. As the book progresses, the unique origins of the characters and how they ended up together unwinds. The author manages to convey the terror, hope, love, loss, and sadness that every character feels perfectly. As the climax nears, the pace of the book quickens to the point that it’s impossible to put it down. Personally, I stayed up until 1 am to finish the book, which speaks to how riveting the novel is. Plotwise, the novel’s premise seems normal enough, but as the disaster at the end looms nearer and more information is revealed to the reader, the various plotlines come together in a way that makes this book stand out in young adult literature, simply because of how well-crafted the plot is. Tied directly to the plot is the characterization.

All four of the main characters have unique voices, backstories, hopes, dreams, and thoughts that allow the book to take the course it does. Furthermore, they all feel like real people with real lives, which allows readers to see into the lives of those in World War II whose stories are often forgotten. This Carnegie Medal-winning novel by Ruta Sepetys deserves praise not only for its enthralling plot, but also for the painfully real characters and the painfully real experiences they have during the messy end of World War II.