- Deseret News - Saturday, February 6, 2016

“SALT TO THE SEA,” by Ruta Sepetys, Philomel Books, $18.99, 400 pages (f) (ages 14 and up)

Ruta Sepetys is known for her thought-provoking historical fiction novels. Her prior books “Between Shades of Gray” and “Out of the Easy” examine difficult parts of history and the victims of the undertow of history. In many ways, she uncovers lesser-known pieces of human history and shows their humanity.

“Salt to the Sea” continues this trend by telling of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a large vessel carrying refugees fleeing Russian soldiers during World War II. Nearly 10,000 civilians were killed in either the torpedo blast or the sinking of the ship in the Baltic Sea in freezing temperatures. Half of those who died were children.

The details of the attack are spelled out in the jacket summary on the book, so while the disaster isn’t a surprise plot point, it’s tragic and heart-wrenching. The novel is told from many points of view in alternating chapters. Each character has a unique perspective and his or her own secrets. The passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff is what ties the characters together, and the upheaval they experience because of the war shows the horrific effects of World War II on refugees.

Sepetys’ meticulous research and clear writing bring this story to life in a way that is captivating and inspires readers to learn more. Sepetys doesn’t shy away from the parts of history that show the depths of human depravity; the children and adults featured in this novel experienced things that were unimaginable even before the ship sank.

While this is a book about a horrific tragedy, it is also about the need to survive and have your story told. This book stands apart from many books about World War II by sharing a uniquely civilian story that will likely resonate with readers as they learn a new piece of history.

“Salt to the Sea” includes tense moments with detailed descriptions of violence and war, as well as general references to rape. There is no swearing or vulgar language.

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