Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

There are a lot of things that we study in US and World History about World War II, but the plight of German, Prussian, Polish, and Lithuanian refugees is not something that is touched on much, and the Wilhelm Gustloff even less so. In fact, I’m sad to say that prior to the publication of Sepetys’ novel I hadn’t even heard about the Gustloff or the nine thousand people that lost their lives in the icy sea that night in 1945.

Sepetys’ story actually doesn’t focus as much on the Wilhelm Gustloff’s sinking so much as it does the journey of each of these teenagers as their stories begin to intertwine and finally converge on the ill fated last trip of the Gustloff.

This being my first Ruta Sepetys novel, despite owning both of her other novels (I know, I really need to get on top of this and read the others!), I was impressed by the utter beauty of her character development.  For the most part, these characters are orphans of war, either not knowing where their parents are, their parents have passed, or they were cast out or forced to join the war efforts.  Sepetys does an amazing job of revealing these small truths about these characters over the course of the narrative, and despite my skepticism about multiple narrators (especially when such short chapters are involved), I found the voices to be distinct enough that it added to the story.

One character is a medically trained nurse, one a mysterious boy with a secret, one an overzealous Nazi, and one a Polish girl with no one.

By all means, this is an absolutely brutal story.

Readers will encounter stories of pillage and rape, war fatalities, hypothermia, frostbite, and a lot of death.  It is a story not for the faint of heart.

Half the narrators do not survive.

In a lot of ways this novel reminds me of Margaret Haddix’s Uprising, as the story builds around very different characters caught up in each other’s fates, and it plays so well while telling the story of those forgotten by history.

For those forgotten by time, the disaster has been given more attention following the publication of Salt to the Sea, but unfortunately the majority of these poor souls’ stories will never be told.  So we have to remember them and the disaster.

The refugee tale is not one that is unimportant by any means in today’s political climate, and it is vital to remember that their plights are not just a tale out of time.

5 Bards for this heartbreaking story that still manages to provide hope

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The love for books is set in stone at Carlson Turner Books and Bookbindery in Portland, Maine.

Photo by @cestchristine

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I’ll pair just about any book with a good Shiraz, but this one especially. 

Bonus: Note the Midsummer Bookmark peaking out! 

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barnes & noble and chill

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WHEN I GET A NEW STORY IDEA AND I HAVE A LIKE HUNDRED ALREADY

dukeofbookingham:

It’s just like:

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FACT

Anytime I’m looking to purchase a new purse/bag, it absolutely has to be big enough to hold a book or I will not purchase it. 

My Top 5 Female Characters, and Why I Chose Them

Favorite MaleFemale Characters

Midsummer is currently participating in the Swoony Boys March Photo Challenge on Instagram, and two of the days concerned favorite female and male characters, respectively.

Instead of just leaving it at a photo, because I am ridiculously excited to share my reasonings for the characters chosen, I decided to do an entire feature post on each.

I chose to do my favorite female characters first, because haven’t men come in first place long enough?

Yetta, Bella, and Jane from Uprising by Margaret Haddix

Fun fact about me: I am a whore for Historical Fiction, especially when it includes powerful women.  In another lifetime I wanted to be a history teacher, but then literature took a hold of me and never let go.  So I feed my history need (by the way, rhyming is fun!) by reading historical fiction.  Uprising is about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the implications that the tragedy had on worker’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement.

I couldn’t decide which of them I love more because they are all so different, but I knew I had to include them. Yetta and Bella, are so well done as individual characters.  Bella’s voice is a bit weak and timid at the beginning, definitely befitting her character, but then grows continuously throughout the story into a character that is shown to really embrace her new life in America, no matter the hardships she has to endure.  Yetta is fierce, independent, and extremely stubborn.  Her narrative voice is so strong that it almost overshadows the other two characters for the majority of the novel, but I think that this was intentional and demonstrative on how fervent these women worked to establish a union and acceptable working conditions.  Both Bella and Yetta worked so hard for so little just so they could support themselves and their families, and it is inspiring to read about their determination.  The third narrator, Jane, I wasn’t expecting to like, because let’s face it, she seemed like a rich girl just looking to circumvent her father and get a little bit of attention, but she became much, much more than that.  She stood up for what she believed in and eventually lost the support of her family because she became involved in the Suffragette organization.  Haddix does such an eloquent job at making these characters so realistic that I felt like I lost three friends when the story ended.

Celaena Sardothien/Aelin Galathynius from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena is a stubborn, somewhat obnoxious brat who is a bit full of herself and her abilities as an assassin.  I love her.  She is so fully realized as a well-rounded character with obvious flaws and negative personality traits, it sometimes seems that Maas created her out of someone I might meet on the street rather than a powerful fae royal from a novel.  Whoops, I should have prefaced that with a *spoiler alert* for those who might not have read the Throne of Glass series yet, but come on, if you go anywhere and read the synopsis for the novels, it will give this plot point away.

Here’s a quote from my first review of Throne of Glass, which shows my first impressions of Celaena: “First, Celaena herself has endured a lot of hardship in her life, but she does manage to find time to read and enjoy frivolous novels (even though she does read more serious literature), admire fashions, and play the coy game of “back and forth” with those around her. Hell, she is even somewhat vindictive to other girls that encroach on what Celaena would consider “her turf.”  What high school aged girl DOESN’T think of these things?  Not only does this make Celaena more relatable, but she seems more realistic. ”

Favorite Female CharactersShe might have some annoyingly realistic character traits, but she is fierce, intelligent, determined – not to be confused with her stubborn aspects, athletic, and is unapologetically sexual.  Once she fully embraced her former self, Aelin, she cemented herself into one of my top female characters of all time.  I can only hope that Empire of Storms continues her growth.

Young Catherine Linton from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I love Wuthering Heights as a whole, even though the majority of people either, A. don’t understand the idea of an unreliable narrator, B. are confused by the fact that the main character dies halfway through the narrative, and C. are too focused on the emotionally taxing relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff to notice/see the second purpose of the novel.  For me, Wuthering Heights was always about these two families who were so intertwined by emotionally abusive relationships in one generation that was healed, albeit slowly, in the second generation.  So notice I said Young Catherine, instead of Catherine.  While Young Catherine is the daughter of the emotionally unstable Catherine from the first half of the novel, she embodies all of the things her mother was not: adaptable, understanding, accepting, and she shows a genuine desire to help her cousin and family.  It’s possible that I love Young Catherine for everything she isn’t – her mother – but I love her none the less.

Shahrzad from The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

If I’m quoting myself, I’d say “I felt an immediate connection to this stubborn strong-willed, clever, beautiful girl,” and it’s still true.  While I await the sequel to release at the end of April (it was moved up!) I couldn’t leave Shazi off of this list.  She is a product of her environment, a woman with little power, but she takes what agency she can and seeks revenge for the seemingly needless death of her best friend. I think that is why she is one of my favorite female characters.  Shazi wasn’t happy falling in line and did her best to fight against the patriarchal and abusive society she lives in.  Sure, she ends up falling in love with the guy who everyone is scared of and hates, but she sure does fight him and best him over and over again.  Gumption, thy name is Shazi. A quote to exemplify:

“So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?”
“Shazi?” Jalal’s grin widened. “Honestly, I pity the wolves.”

Blue Sargent from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater 

Blue is a recent addition to my favorite female characters, and she beat out characters like Remy from This Lullaby, Cleo from the Falling Kingdoms Series, Alyssa from the Splintered trilogy, and a number of others for the last spot.  (That really makes it seem like I’m some kind of Academy Awards for fictional female characters, but I’m not) She is an unapologetic feminist in a group of friends made of boys, from a household of psychic women – of which she is not, in a small backwards Southern town and somehow she thrives.  There are a ton of obstacles that she faces, but most importantly for me is that she holds her own as a narrator.  She shares the narrative duties with three male point of views and could easily be overshadowed by Ronan’s ability to take things from dreams, Adam’s connection with Cabeswater, and Gansey’s search for a long lost king.  But she doesn’t.  She holds her own and at some points renews my interest in the narrative because while she is in the middle of the story, she is still an outsider in so many ways.  I love her and I can’t wait for the last book in the series.

 

Do you agree with some of my choices?  Who would you choose?

 

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