Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Release Date: February 2016
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction
My Rating: 8/10 Solid
It’s early 1945 and a group of people trek across East Prussia, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories.
I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly that set during World War Two, so when I saw this floating around the bookblogesphere last year, I knew I had to read it. All I knew was that this is a book, set during the war, with very good reviews. It wasn’t until it arrived in my Christmas stocking last year that I realised it was young adult – something I usually avoid for want of something grittier. I know many will now be screaming YOUNG ADULT CAN BE GRITTY at me, and I know that – I’ve read some very good YA recently, but I now worry that every YA book put in front of me is going to resemble John Green and I really don’t need to suffer through that again.
Of course, I was wrong. Sort of. In fact, the only negative I found in this book, and the reason I scored it an 8/10 and not higher, was the younger audience it is clearly aimed at. Some of the language, while beautifully presented, was a little juvenile, and much of the more hard-hitting emotional stuff you usually get in a book set during this period was missing. The book, as many do, used romance as a way into this period, which I didn’t think it needed. The cast of characters were strong and interesting enough without the two teenage characters experiencing major sexual tension throughout.
Now I’ve got the negatives off my chest, I can actually talk about what I liked about this book, and trust me, I really enjoyed most of it. The most striking part of the book, and one that will stay with me, is the setting among a little known event of 1945. I like to think I’m fairly well educated on the Second World War, but the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by the Red Army in East Prussia, and the loss of around 10,000 civilians is something I knew absolutely nothing about. This is particularly striking as this is the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking in history. We are taught about shipping disasters such as the Titanic in school, yet this goes ignored. Just another horrific tragedy of the war, I suppose, and one that didn’t involve the UK or USA, so why would we be interested? (Please don’t get me started on the way war is commemorated in the UK, that’s another post for another day). Ruta Sepetys appears to enjoy presenting little known events of war, as can also be seen in her previous novel, Between Shades of Grey.
If you are as fascinated by history as I am, then you really need to read this book. I love anything that teaches me something new, and this certainly did that. Don’t be put off by my negatives, particularly as I know many will enjoy the YA element.