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Review: Salt to the Sea (Sepetys)

Oh, beautiful, heartbreaking book! Salt to the Sea is a must-read. Easily one of my 2016 favorites.

AUTHOR: Ruta Sepetys
SERIES: none
PUBLICATION DATE: February 2, 2016
ISBN: 9780399160301
PAGES: 393
SOURCE: my library
GENRE: historical fiction, WWII
SETTING: Germany, 1945
GIVE IT TO: upper-MS, HS

SUMMARY: Germany, 1945. The Russian army has invaded Germany, and their retribution for the war is swift and brutal. Four teens, each with his and her own secrets, meet their fates on the doomed evacuation ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Joana, trained as a nurse, has seen enough blood and tears to last several lifetimes. Florian, a 19-year old German who stands out because he’s not dressed as a soldier. Emilia, a Polish girl pretending to be someone else. And Alfred, a Nazi soldier writing letters to his love.

REVIEW: I am going to be very careful with this review because I do not want to reveal any of the many surprises that happen in this beautiful, heartbreaking story of four WWII-era teens with entangling fates. To say the Wilhelm Gustloff was doomed may even be giving away too much since most of us haven’t ever heard of this largest-ever maritime disaster. With over 9000 deaths, it easily tops the Titanic, and while we all know about Titanic, many will have never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff. I certainly hadn’t before I read this book.

I love that the chapters are really short, only a page or two for each of the four narrators. My favorite narrator was most definitely Alfred. He’s a Nazi and an absolute weenie, but I loved his voice and the way he rationalized his cowardice in his own mind. I kept picturing “Rolfe” in The Sound of Music for Alfred’s character. In case you haven’t seen The Sound of Music 787 times like I have, Rolfe is Leisl’s love interest and the boy who “blew the whistle” on the VonTrapp Family as they hid in the convent toward the end. Rolfe and Alfred are both weenie Nazis, and I bet they would have gotten along well.

THEMES: WWII, shipwrecks, horrors of war, perseverance, love, sacrifice

THE BOTTOM LINE: Salt to the Sea is a well-written story about a little-publicized event. It’s terribly sad and uplifting and hopeful at the same time. One of my favorites of 2016!

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have two copies that stay checked out. Our teachers have loved this one, too. Lots of checkouts!


  • Overall: 5/5
  • Creativity: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Engrossing: 4/5–I had a tough time getting into it and keeping characters straight for awhile.
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Appeal to teens: 5/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5


  • Language: medium–a small handful of language; includes maybe two F-bombs
  • Sexuality: medium–rape is a major part of the story. Nothing is described, but there are several scenes of girls being dragged away or nearly raped.
  • Violence: high–it’s a war story. Rape, gun violence, missing limbs, deaths of children and babies, war atrocities. Very sensitive readers will struggle with the violence in this one.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: mild–cigarettes, alcohol to numb pain and clean wounds, medical drugs (Joana is a nurse)
  • Other: Childbirth is described, but it’s not very detailed.

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