Reviews for Salt to the Sea

by Sepetys, Ruta

Publishers Weekly
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Sepetys delivers another knockout historical novel, after Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy, that offers insight into the ugly realities of WWII and culminates with a forgotten event, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Set in East Prussia during the brutal winter of 1945, in the waning days of the conflict, and tautly narrated by four strong, distinct voices, the narrative highlights the plight of refugees as Germany tries to evacuate soldiers and civilians: "The brutality was shocking. Disgraceful acts of inhumanity. No one wanted to fall into the hands of the enemy. But it was growing harder to distinguish who the enemy was." The narrators include Florian, a Prussian boy carrying a secret parcel; traumatized 15-year-old Amelia, a Polish girl without papers who hides a mysterious pregnancy; Joana, a repatriated 21-year-old Lithuanian nurse, who believes she's a murderer; and Alfred, a German soldier who imagines writing self-important missives to a girl back home. Their stories collide-first as the three refugees travel through the countryside with a larger group, and then as they try to gain passage on Alfred's ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, which is doomed to maritime disaster with casualties exceeding those of the Titanic and Lusitania combined. Sepetys excels in shining light on lost chapters of history, and this visceral novel proves a memorable testament to strength and resilience in the face of war and cruelty. Ages 12-up. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


School Library Journal
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Gr 8 Up-With the same lyrical prose, eye for detail, and breath-stopping ability to unfold delicate layers of characterization and theme with skillfully paced revelations, the author of Between Shades of Gray (2011) and Out of the Easy (2013, both Philomel) presents a fictionalized World War II story based on a true tragedy. In alternating narratives, four different teens grapple with the bitter cold, the ever-present danger of falling bombs, and their own dark secrets. There's Joana, a pretty and empathetic Lithuanian nurse who harbors a heavy guilt; Florian, a mysterious young man struggling to hide his true identity; Amelia, a pregnant Polish girl; and Alfred, a sociopathic Nazi sailor with an inferiority complex. Along with a fully realized cast of secondary characters who comprise the small band of refugees slowly making their way through the frozen and battle-scarred Prussian countryside, Joana, Florian, and Amelia are determined to get aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German military ship evacuating civilians and wounded soldiers at the tail end of the war. Alfred, meanwhile, a low-ranking officer stationed aboard the ship, avoids work by hiding in the toilets, composing imaginary and boastful letters to a girl back home. Each voice is distinct, and Sepetys unwinds their individual backstories slowly and with care. As the relationships among the refugees strengthen and they begin to trust one another, vulnerabilities are revealed-some of them life-threatening. Observations of war and loss, human cruelty, and hatred are unflinching. But through the horror and heartbreak shine rays of hope: love, kindness, courage, and sacrifice. VERDICT Artfully told and sensitively crafted, Sepetys's exploration of this little-known piece of history will leave readers weeping.-Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Shipwrecks and maritime disasters are of fathomless fascination, with ships such as the Titanic and the Lusitania household names. It's interesting that the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff during WWII, which led to the largest loss of life on a single ship in history, goes largely unremarked upon at least in America. The numbers are staggering: far over capacity, the ship was carrying approximately 10,582 passengers when it was struck by Soviet torpedoes, and more than 9,400 of those passengers perished in the ensuing wreck, a death toll that dwarfs the Titanic's assumed losses (around 1,500). Part of the neglect might be due to timing. The ship was evacuating refugees and German citizens from Gotenhafen, Poland, when it was sunk in the Baltic Sea in the winter of 1945. Astounding losses defined WWII, and this became yet another tragedy buried under the other tragedies after all, even 9,400 is dwarfed by 60 million. But it was a tragedy, and, like all tragedies, it broke the people involved down to their barest parts. Sepetys has resurrected the story through the eyes of four young characters trying to reach safety as the Russian army advances: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a pregnant Polish 15-year-old; Florian, a Prussian artist carrying dangerous cargo; and Alfred, a German naval soldier stationed on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Each has been touched by war and is hunted by the past, and, determined to get on a boat in any way possible, hurtling unknowingly toward disaster. With exquisite prose, Sepetys plumbs the depths of her quartet of characters, bringing each to the breaking point and back, shaping a narrative that is as much about the intricacies of human nature as it is about a historical catastrophe. Nominated for the Morris Award for her first novel, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys returns to those roots with another harrowing, impeccably researched story of hardship and survival in Eastern Europe. When reading a book so likely to end in tears, one inclination is to avoid getting attached to any of the characters, but that's next to impossible here, so thoroughly does Sepetys mine their inner landscapes. That doesn't mean they are all likable as it breeds heroes, so, too, does calamity breed cowards and opportunists but it does make it difficult to think of them as anything other than real people. After all, the ship was very real. It does the people aboard a disservice not to reflect them the best one can. In many ways, the greatest punishment and the greatest of all tragedies is to be forgotten. This haunting gem of a novel begs to be remembered, and in turn, it tries to remember the thousands of real people its fictional characters represent. What it asks of us is that their memories and their stories not be abandoned to the sea.--Reagan, Maggie Copyright 2015 Booklist


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens' lives converge in hopes of escape. Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voicesLithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfredwith often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany's role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn't change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning. Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author's note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


School Library Journal
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Gr 9 Up-While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known 1945 sinking by Soviet torpedoes of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers-the intended capacity was approximately 1,800-and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives. Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks. Small hiccups aside, most obviously that characters' voices change from one narrator to another, e.g., Florian as voiced in Emilia's chapters doesn't sound like Florian in his own chapters, Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, and Michael Crouch perform mesmerizing narration worthy of Sepetys's spectacular novel. VERDICT Libraries with even the most limited audio budgets will want to invest. ["Artfully told and sensitively crafted, Sepetys's exploration of this little-known piece of history will leave readers weeping": SLJ 12/15 starred review of the Philomel book.]-Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

January 1945. The war in Europe is in its end stages as German forces are beaten back by the Allied armies. To escape the Soviet advance on the eastern front, thousands of refugees flee to the Polish coast. In this desperate flight for freedom, four young people-each from very different backgrounds and each with dark secrets-connect as they vie for passage on the Willhelm Gustloff, a former pleasure cruiser used to evacuate the refugees. Packed to almost ten times its original capacity, the ship is hit by Soviet torpedoes fewer than 12 hours after leaving port. As the ship sinks into the icy waters of the Baltic Sea, what was supposed to be an avenue for escape quickly becomes another fight to survive the randomness of war. VERDICT YA author Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray; Out of the Easy) describes an almost unknown maritime disaster whose nearly 9,000 casualties dwarfed those of both the Titanic and the Lusitania. Told alternately from the perspective of each of the main characters, the novel also highlights the struggle and sacrifices that ordinary people-children-were forced to make. At once beautiful and heart-wrenching, this title will remind readers that there are far more casualties of war than are recorded in history books. Sure to have crossover appeal for adult readers.-Elisabeth Clark, West Florida P.L., Pensacola Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Gr 8 Up-In East Prussia at the end of World War II, a group of refugees are desperately making their way toward the one chance they have at survival: passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff. Braving the unforgiving elements, violent soldiers, and an uncertain future, Joana, Emilia, and Florian narrate their harrowing journey, along with unsettling chapters from Alfred, a Nazi sailor. Sepetys brings to vivid life the events and repercussions of this little-known piece of 20th-century history. Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Horn Book
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The stories of four young adults converge in this illumination of a little-known WWII tragedy. As Russian soldiers push Nazi forces back, Eastern European refugees flee toward the hope of evacuation by sea on the Wilhelm Gustloff, a vessel destined to sink. This elegiac tale succeeds with impressive research, affecting characters, and keen insights into humans' counterposed tendencies toward evil and nobility. (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Set in East Prussia during the brutal winter of 1945, these stories of four very different teenagers-three refugees escaping their disparate war-torn homelands, and a Nazi sailor obsessed with Hitler-Intertwine when they all end up on the doomed ship Wilhelm Gustloff. The four narrators (Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, and Michael Crouch) are superbly cast, each taking on the role of a main character with a distinctive voice that perfectly matches his or her role: the young, vulnerable voice of Emilia, a sweet Polish 16-year-old who has suffered too much tragedy and emotional trauma; the warm, caring tones of Joana, a Latvian nurse, who is nurturing and perceptive; the deep, guarded voice of Florian, a mysterious Prussian hiding a secret; and most memorable of all, the high, thin, nasal voice of the Nazi sailor Alfred, dripping with smug arrogance and self-righteousness. The story's plot and pacing translate beautifully to the audio medium; the intimate interior monologues reveal character development while fast-paced, gripping action scenes of danger and narrow escapes create a sense of suspense. The result is a riveting audiobook that will have listeners on the edge of their seats while also educating them about a little-known but tragic chapter of WWII history. Ages 12-up. A Philomel hardcover. (Feb.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.