Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the SeaTitle: Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Philomel Books

Release Date: February 2, 2016

Interest: Author / Historical Fiction

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

I finished Salt to the Sea Saturday morning and I really have no idea where to begin this review. Simply put, it’s tragic and amazing.

A couple weeks ago I listened to Ruta Sepetys speak about Salt to the Sea at her book signing at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. I was in the middle of reading another book, which I’ve been thoroughly enjoying, but after listening to her talk about this maritime disaster and the research she did, I knew I had to read it right away. So I set my book aside that night and started reading her third novel.

Let me tell you, I cried and gasped multiple times while reading this novel. The tears weren’t always full-fledged, but I certainly sniffled and wiped my eyes a time or two. And then of course the end really got to me, but I knew that would happen considering the story. Ruta Sepetys is a passionate writer and it comes through in her stories. So many of the images she created were vivid and often shocking. Also, this was a tough read as a mom considering how many children were lost and the idea of having to choose which children would live and if they’d live at all.

Another part of the Salt to the Sea that really worked for me was the short chapters and the multiple character points of views. It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of the characters switching and hearing their voices, but once I did it made for smooth, quick reading. I was attached to all of them, even the characters who didn’t have their own chapters. Although, I never really connected with Alfred; he rubbed me the wrong way.

I feel like I’m moving through this review too quickly, but it’s because my thoughts are still all over the place. I’m still picturing those last scenes; my heart is still heavy. It doesn’t matter that these are fictional characters because I know they’re based on real people who suffered the way they did. And it’s even harder thinking about the Syrian refugees who are suffering today. Salt to the Sea is a book that I want my students to read and teachers to read as well. I wish I could bring Ruta Sepetys to school because I know she’d inspire my students to not only read this novel, but to also become passionate about research and finding stories.


  1. Loved your review and shared it on! I love Ruta Sepetys & her historical fiction is exciting and impeccably researched – teens and adults will love this book!

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