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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Young adult

Salt to the Sea

by Ruta Sepetys

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Quick take

When tragedy strikes, we learn how humanity can prevail even in the darkest hours.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_War



While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.

Sepetys (writer of 'Between Shades of Gray') crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.

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Why I love it

Salt to the Sea shows the power of Young Adult books to bring new perspective to real historical events. Four teenagers desperately seek escape from the carnage of World War II. Their paths will converge on the German military transport ship Wilhelm Gustloff, as they rush headlong into the greatest maritime disaster in human history. Short, crisp chapters give voice to the struggles of each teenager. And when tragedy strikes, we learn how humanity can prevail even in the darkest hours.

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Member ratings (1,118)

  • Anne C.

    Oklahoma City, OK

    I’m not a lover of historical fiction but gave this one a try. It started a bit rough for me, I’m more ignorant than I’d like to admit on the subject matter. But once finished it was simply beautiful.

  • Abby M.

    Wahpeton, ND

    I wish I could put into words how much Sepety’s novels impact me. Prepare to have your heart ripped out, writhe in suspense over the heros’ fate, & dwell on this book long after turning the last page

  • Anna S.

    Jamestown, NC

    I read The Fountains of Silence and loved it and this book was just as amazing. The author tells storied from historical events that I had no idea happened and it’s amazing! Definitely recommend this!

  • Joan O.

    Johns Creek, GA

    Four young voices of four distinct characters in late WWII captured during a time of the little known sinking of the Gustloff ship where thousands of civilians died. Beautiful voices, excellent prose.

  • Jennifer C.

    Manistee, MI

    This is my third book by Ruta Sepety and it did not disappoint. She writes about important parts in history that aren't often talked about. She doesn't just tell a story, she provides an experience.

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