Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I love books and read a lot. I love logging what I’ve read on Goodreads, but I never review books. I’m not sure why; you know I have strong opinions about what I’ve read. I received an ARC (Advance  Reader Copy) from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review and decided I’d also publish it here for all of you to read. As a writer, I know I’ll need readers to do the same for me at some point. Here’s to paying it forward!

Young adult historical fiction, when well-done, is one of my favorite things to read. Sepetys’ newest novel is one of those books. I received an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. The narrative follows the plight of four teens who find themselves together on one of the largest German military transport ships, the Wilhelm Gustloff, in the last year of WWII. Using multiple POVs, the narrative brings each character into the storyline, revealing their desires, secrets, and fears.

Joana is a nurse with surgical skills. As the glue that holds the group together she’s a likable characters with valuable skills in a wartime setting. Florian is a German soldier with a secret that he endeavors to protect at all costs, even if it means using those who’ve shown him kindness along the way. Emilia is a young girl in a terrible predicament given the difficulty of life on the run. With the help of Joana, she finds companionship and safety within the group. Alfred is both my favorite and most despised character. While it took a while to discover how his storyline would connect him to the larger group, his loathsome self-delusion functions as a comment on the ultimate failure of the Third Reich. His narrative is almost comic at times and I loved watching how this played out as the story went on. The characters are well-drawn without being caricatures and there’s enough mystery as to their motivations that their interactions leave room for the reader to wonder who will be left standing in the end.

With a handful of supporting characters, the reader is pulled into the tale of one of the biggest maritime disasters in history. While many readers will be familiar with the sinking of the Titanic, a few others with that of the Lusitania, few will be aware of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The historical record plays a supporting role and Sepetys manages to inform without preaching. Readers are given enough detail to understand the historical record as well as the context, but they won’t be hit over the head with a history textbook either. This is historical fiction done right. For YA readers looking for something beyond romance and for lovers of historical fiction, Salt to the Sea is a read worth your time.

What do you think? Is this something you might add to your ever-growing TBR pile? Are you a writer who relies on the willingness of your readers to review your books? Are you a regular book reviewer? I’d love to hear from you about your experience. As always, tweet, post, or send a smoke-signal. Let me know what you’re thinking.

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