Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys cover shows an expanse of sea with three empty life saver rings.

Salt to the Sea
Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books
February 2, 2016

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World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Salt to the Sea on Goodreads

My Review

Okay, so not that you’ve been clocking my reading lists the last few years, but SALT TO THE SEA has been on my list since 2016. I’ve heard amazing things about Ruta Sepetys, but this is the first book of hers that I’ve finally read.

The writing is super compelling. Each character is distinct, down to their priorities, and how they behave. For instance, one refugee is a former shoe maker. He views every problem in the world as one of shoes. Whatever problem you’re facing, having the right shoes will make a huge difference. It may seem silly, but in the context of the story, it creates several powerful moments, and he shows so much compassion for others through the way he looks after their shoes.

The story can be pretty brutal. Lots of the brutality happens in passing, which means it’s not long descriptions, but they still tend to be sometimes horrifying. War brings out the best and the worst in humanity, and SALT TO THE SEA shows both.

I think in some ways, that brutality makes the point that war is horrifying. That we sometimes look back at history remembering the glorious victories, but we do not want to remember the civilians who were brutalized by advancing soldiers or who starved or froze to death. Or in this case, the tragic death of more than nine thousand people.

Readers interested in World War II history will find this little-explored event compelling and detailed. Sensitive readers may find some descriptions too brutal. See below for further content details.

Salt to the Sea on Amazon

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 15 up.

Characters are mainly German or Eastern European.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
No profanity used.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between girl and boy.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Sensitive readers, beware. References to some super dark things. Characters hear rumors of horrors committed by the Russian army as they advance through Germany. References to rape. Some scenes show the events leading up to an assault. Some brief descriptions of the desperate things people do to escape the Russians: murder/suicide of an entire family, desperate people ultimately killing their small children trying to save them.

When the ship sinks, some people make sacrifices so others may live. Other people refuse to help those around them, even harming them in their desperation.

Drug Content 

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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