Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published by: Puffin
I received this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
I’m not normally a reader of historical fiction, but after our lovely friend Casey, from ABasketCaseyReads on BookTube did a non-spoiler review of the book, I was intrigued enough to want to read it. It’s set in World War II, and the UK GCSE curriculum just loves to teach teens about that, so I know quite a bit about it (not, unsurprisingly, much about the events that inspired this book, however.) It also has four different perspectives and really short chapters, which are normally things that make me love a book more.
P L O T
All four character eventually make their way onto a boat. That’s the super basic summary. Of course, there’s tons of complications to do with nationality and identification papers and teen pregnancy and death that make the journey much, much more difficult.
P A C E
With four POVs, and short chapters (I’m talking about two pages, maximum) Salt to the Sea is a really pacing back. The downside to this is that I got a little disorientated jumping around so much between the characters. Sometimes it would work fantastically because it would hop between characters in the same situation to give you both view points. But, other times, I needed to concentrate to figure out each character’s continuous story line. I’ve never read something so bitty before, so it was an interesting exercise! It made the book feel very short because you could just fly through it.
C H A R A C T E R S
JOANA – she was lovely, a nurse who helped protect the other girl. She’s also a love interest, which gave her story an interesting dynamic. I tended to think of her as the leader, because she definitely knew what she was doing.
EMILIA – she was the youngest of the bunch and pregnant. She was extremely vulnerable and likeable because everyone saw her as a little sister, or as someone they wanted to protect. Her pink hat got mentioned at least twenty different times, so you knew she looked cute while she went through labour. I felt the most fear for Emilia, because of her pregnancy. She was Polish, but pretended to be Latvian to get onto the boat, and I constantly worried if things were going to be OK with her.
FLORIAN – he was the extremely likeable male character. His name really suited him, because he was like a knight in shining armour for Emilia. Again, I worried for him.
ALFRED – although his chapters were interesting because they were mostly in letter form, I didn’t like the guy. He seemed like most evil and excluded from the group, whereas the other three were more of a team and worked together to get safely onto the ship.
V E R D I C T
Overall, it was an amazingly interesting read. You could tell how much research the author had done (and she included a little bibliography of sources she looked at) and it gave the story such a sense of reality. I think making the characters teenagers and young adults was really powerful, because it highlighted vulnerable groups in WWII and meant I could emotionally connect to someone my own age. These characters were so strong to face what they did.
So, if things are being set in eastern Europe, in the dead of winter, and there’s a ship, there’s an event we can all think of that didn’t end too well. This is exactly like that, with a hint of a happy ending, so if you’re prepared for a slightly stressful and emotional journey, Salt to the Sea is an excellent book for you!