Winter, 1945, Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe. Readers follow the stories of four refugees from four different homelands, harbouring four separate secrets that have torn their lives apart akin to the physical destruction of Europe caused by World War II. Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred attempt to flee Eastern Europe in search of safety, family, revenge, closure and escape from their past.
Ruta Sepetys’, Salt to the Sea will certainly appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, specifically World War II history, but also any reader who enjoys texts driven by complex characters. The format of Salt to the Sea, with short, cliffhanging chapters rotating between the perspectives of the four main characters, makes it very easy for the reader to become engaged in the characters and their stories. It’s a novel that leaves you wanting to continue reading to find out what happens next.
Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred’s secrets, much like their safety, are made vulnerable by the events of war unfolding around them. They also place each character on a destined path that inevitably brings them together aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that is meant to transport the four ‘heroes’ and their friends to safety. As their rescue mission reaches its climax, their secrets are revealed causing an emotional impact that mirrors the physical impact of the war taking place around them.
Salt to the Sea would appeal to middle and high school students. As a work of historical fiction, it would be very easy for students to make cross-curricular connections with social studies courses. It tackles many themes that are prevalent in texts set during war, including but not limited to fate, survival, family, guilt, loss, and redemption. I highly recommend this novel!
Bio for Ryan Price:
I am a High School Literacy and Assessment Coordinator in Anglophone School District-South. While a large chunk of my time dedicated to reading is immersed in professional research, I feel it is extremely important to frequently return to what made me fall in love with reading in the first place, engaging stories with complex and dynamic characters.