Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

salt to the seaTitle: Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Genre: Young adult, historical

Pages: 393

Format: Paperback

Other: Amazon, GoodReads

Grade: B+( 4.5/5)


World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival” (GoodReads).


I’m a weirdo. I love reading about the Holocaust. Okay, maybe I’m not a complete weirdo. I know other people enjoy reading about it to. But honestly, I don’t know if “enjoy” is the appropriate word. It’s not like reading about something so horrific is fun. It’s depressing, but it’s important.

I was first introduced to Sepetys when I read Between Shades of Gray, and she immediately became an author I wanted to read more from. I love learning, and that’s one of the reasons I love reading about the Holocaust. I want to know everything about it because it baffles me that something so horrible happened so recently. I want to remember that letting horrible things happen isn’t okay. And I want to know as much as I can.

Anyway, I really loved Between Shades of Gray, so I picked up Salt to the Sea. I was a little hesitant at first because it was about a boat and that sounded boring. Luckily, I was wrong.

Before Salt to the Sea, I knew nothing of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Granted, I’m not much of a history nerd, but I am very interested in more modern history (WWI, WWII, etc), so I was surprised that I never came across this tragedy in any of my classes or in any of the other books I have read. But this is what I loved so much about this book, and it’s one of the reasons why I will continue to read books by Ruta Sepetys. Salt to the Sea inspired me to research and to learn about a topic I knew nothing about.

Even though this book taught me something, it isn’t really educational. Salt to the Sea is fictional, even if it is based in reality. And honestly, this worked for me because even though I’m interested in history, I don’t gravitate towards nonfiction. It wasn’t boring. I wasn’t reading a textbook. And it wasn’t too informational. It had just enough truth to inspire me to learn more, but it was a story first.

Ultimately, the characters were what drew me in. Salt to the Sea is told from four different perspectives: Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred. I’m not usually one for multiple perspectives, and honestly, I probably would have enjoyed this more if it were from one or two perspectives instead of four. However, I still got something from each character. They were from all different backgrounds and that made this more interesting because you could see all of these different perspectives.

The only character who felt off to me was Alfred, and honestly, he should have felt off. Alfred is a Nazi, and he’s seriously messed up. I had so much difficulty reading his chapters. Seriously, if you read it, you’ll see. I guess this is the one thing I wished would have been different. I wished we could have seen someone who was more sympathetic in this role. I know that isn’t that right word, I just can’t really think of another one to use. I guess I wanted to see someone who was more conflicted and less consumed by his prejudice. But maybe that’s unrealistic of me. I don’t know.

I suppose it’s more that I wanted to see someone more human. Alfred never felt human to me. He never felt developed, and it was clear that Sepetys did not like Alfred’s character.

Despite Alfred’s chapters, Salt to the Sea was easy to read. Sepetys’ writing is very clear, and she’s definitely not guilty of “purple prose”. However, there is something almost poetic about the way she writes. It’s not over the top, but stylistically, I find her writing to be quite beautiful.

And then world she paints is vivid. I could imagine everything, even the things I didn’t want to imagine. That’s part of why this book took me so long to read (a week). I needed to take emotional breaks from it, but I guess that’s also why it was such a powerful book.

Ultimately, I did not love this like I loved Between Shades of Gray. It took me longer to read, mostly because I had problems with Alfred’s development. However, the other characters were intriguing, the writing was clear, and most importantly, the history was interesting.

4 thoughts on “Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

  1. All Booked says:

    Alfred’s perspectives made me feel slightly nauseous and I skimmed more than fully read them. Though, I suppose to be fair the other characters were much more sympathetic and caring so in a way his side was a way to see how the other side might look for some. I love Septys, though, and I agree that this story made me look up more about these events afterward!

    Liked by 1 person

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