Book Review | Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

07 February 2018

| goodreads |
I've established before that I love World War II books. They are some of the most powerful, inspiring, and heartbreaking pieces of literature out there.
I read Ruta Sepetys' debut novel Between Shades of Gray years ago and really enjoyed it. The writing was beautiful, it was a quick read that was still able to pack a punch, and it was about an event in WWII history that I had never heard about before. I loved it and highly recommend it! (Also the movie is coming soon and I'm super hype!)

What I appreciate most about Ruta Sepetys and her books is that she doesn't just retell the same tragic WWII story over and over again with her books. She tells about the things that have been covered up by history. The things no one learns about in school. As someone who loves to research obscure happenings in history, I really respect her as an author.
So when I heard about Salt to the Sea, I was really excited to read it and love it! However, it did unfortunately fall a bit short for me...

The story focuses on the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship full of refugees that tragically sunk, killing thousands. Of course, I had never heard of the ship or the tragedy surrounding it before reading this book. I was looking forward to learning more about it while reading the book. But that's the thing, I felt like I didn't actually learn as much as I could have.

The historical setting and the Wilhelm Gustloff acted more like a backdrop to me. This is an extremely character driven book. The actually plot is pretty basic. It is the characters and their motivations that drive the story forward. Which is fine. But I felt like all the focus on the characters took away from the deep historical significance that could've added to the story to make it more heartbreaking and tragic and beautiful in the end.

I also have a hard time reading books with multiple points of view that are told through first person. It gets really confusing, and I never feel like I get connected with any of the characters because it's all so spread out. With this book, it was hard for me to distinguish between the four different characters until after I had read around 50 pages because they all had the exact same voice. Ruta Sepetys' writing style is extremely beautiful and poetic and I love it, but that's how every single character in this book thought and spoke, and it wasn't really realistic to me.
The only character who stood out to me was Alfred. For some reason I liked him the most, and I found him to be the most heartbreaking out of all the characters. He's a conflicting person, and as the reader you never know if you should like him or not.

Despite the negatives, I did enjoy reading this book. Like all of Ruta's books, it was very quick and easy to read, and the writing was beautiful. There were a couple things that happened that I wasn't expecting, and the ending was very sad.
Of course I will forever continue to read WWII books, and I will continue to follow Ruta Sepetys' writing. I just felt like there could've been so much more with this one. I wanted more about the Wilhem Gustloff, and more about the context surrounding it. I wanted just a tiny bit more plot, and more distinguished characters.
War is catastrophe. It breaks families in irretrievable pieces. But those who are gone are not necessarily lost.
― Ruta SepetysSalt to the Sea


  1. Hmm might give this one a pass! Great review though! Also can I ask how you designed your blog look because it is BEAUTIFUL

    1. Thank you so much Evangeline! I actually got this theme for my blog from a shop on Etsy then just tweaked the colors and layout and widgits to fit the style I like. There are a lot of really pretty themes and layouts out there!

  2. I love love love your review! I'm really looking forward to getting around to reading this book, because I prefer a character-driven story over a history-focused story. I like historical fiction, though - just not my fave genre. :D

    I've read some WW2 book, but not a lot. Not enough, lol! Are they any YA WW2 recs you could give me? :)

    Lila @ The Red-Hooded Writer

    1. If you think you'll like this book then go for it! If you like character-driven stories with beautiful writing I think it's definitely for you!
      As for other YA WWII books I would recommend The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, of course, also Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein are also amazing!!

  3. Alfred was such a compelling character to read, I agree. I haven’t read any of Ruta Sepetys’ other books, but Salt to the Sea defintely provides an avenue for it in the future. ^.^

    xoxo Abigail Lennah | ups & downs

    1. Oh yeah I highly recommend trying her other books. I personally thought Between Shades of Gray was better. I'm sure if you liked Salt to the Sea you'd love it!

  4. I plan on reading this especially since I've barely been reading a lot of Historical Fiction lately.

    I also tend to like WW2 stories... even if it's the same story... that's kind of weird I guess xD

    Have you read the Soldier Girl series by Michael Grant?

    1. That's not weird. I'm the same way. WWII stories are the best!
      I have not read that series, but I'll be sure to look it up!