Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Salt to the Sea is a powerful YA historical fiction novel set in Germany and East Prussia towards the end of World War 2. Desperate to flee, people are trekking across Germany to board the Wilhelm Gustloff that will take them away from this war-torn land. We follow four characters, all from different lands, all with secrets, all attempting to board the ship. Based on the true event of the largest maritime disaster in history, this compelling novel will take you away and leave you thinking about it long after you turn the final page.
I love Supetys’ other novels, so I had very high expectations for this one, and it did not disappoint. The characters in this book are all so interesting and complex, that even though there are four different perspectives that change very frequently, I never felt the need to check the chapter headings. Even the secondary characters, some of whom did not have proper names, felt so unique and realistic that your heart ached for them as much as it did for the main characters.
The pacing for this book was definitely faster than Supetys’ other novels and I found myself flying through this book. You feel the urgency the characters do to board this ship and escape the horrific circumstances they have been dealt. I could easily have read this book in a day had I not had other things get in the way.
It is evident that Sepetys did an enormous amount of research for this book which completely paid off. The setting and atmosphere of this book was so bleak, you are instantly transported back to East Prussia in the winter of 1945. You felt the harshness of the winter, the urgency of the people to flee and to seek a better life, the hopelessness of their situation. Throughout the novel you are filled with dread as you are reminded what inspired this book and where it is headed, but that definitely did not take away from the reading experience whatsoever.
My favourite thing about Supetys’ novels is that, even with these bleak and horrific circumstances the characters are in, we still see the goodness of humanity and how the human spirit carries on in even the most dire of situations. I cried for half an hour after reading this book and I know it is one that will stay with me.
I had absolutely no idea about this tragedy before I read this book and was shocked it was not more well known. Even though the characters in this book are fictional, you are reminded that this was a real event in which 9,000 people, over half of which were children, lost their lives in one night. I urge you all to pick this book up and read it, so at last their story can be heard.