Published by Philomel Books on 2/2/16
Source: My Secret Sister!, The Publisher
My content rating: Mature YA (Some difficult themes - war, death, rape, etc.)
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.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.
This book was simply beautiful and stunning! I was immersed in these characters’ lives and emotions and pulled into the pain of people enduring in this horrific period of our world’s history.
What Fed My Addiction:
- A different view of WWII. One of the aspects of this book that I absolutely loved was the fact that it gave such a different view of WWII than is typical in historical fiction from that period. The story is told from the perspective of teens and young adults who are fleeing the Russian army and attempting to get back to Germany after being given permission from Hitler. Only one of the characters was actually dedicated to Hitler and held his ideals, but I thought it was fascinating to read a story where the “other side” was seen as just as villainous at Hitler. Many of the people on “Hitler’s side” were simply caught in the crossfires of a terrible war and weren’t truly Nazis. These people were just trying to survive, and when the Russians invaded their countries, they brought destruction and terror (including raping many of the women and girls). This story is told from the perspective of people fleeing that terror. The tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is completely overlooked, even though over 9,000 people died (only 1,500 died on The Titanic). Why? Probably partially because in wartime so many people die that the horror of losing some is dampened, but also because these people were on the wrong side of the war. When we think of WWII, we don’t think of the Germans or others aligned with Hitler who died, even though many of those people were simply trying to survive in horrific circumstances. Don’t get me wrong – this book does not glorify Hitler in any way or even really make us sympathize with characters who agree with him (even though these characters were all fleeing under Hitler’s protection, most of them disagreed with his ideals – they were just people trying to make it out alive). I found it fascinating to see the war from this “other” perspective that we rarely see.
- Multiple POVs. This book was told in very short chapters, and each chapter was told from the perspective of one of four characters. This could have made for a choppy, disconnected read, but that was not the case at all with this book. If anything, the very short chapters encouraged me to keep turning the pages and read “just one more chapter” – I couldn’t put the book down! And I found myself emotionally invested in each and every one of the characters’ stories right till the very end.
- Emilia – A 15-year-old Polish girl who is fleeing the horrors of the Nemmersdorf massacre (this horrific Russian invasion actually happened – you can click this link to read about it – thanks to Britt @ Please Feed the Bookworm for pointing this information out!). Emilia has a terrible secret that both haunts her and drives her to flee for her life – but since she’s Polish, she is considered “sub-human” by the Nazis. Her only chance at escaping the war-torn land is to hide her ethnicity (she looks Aryan, but speaks very little German) and attempt to flee to Germany. Her story is incredibly poignant and captured my heart the most intensely.
- Joana – A Lithuanian nurse in her early twenties. Her mother had German heritage, so she’s been granted Hitler’s protection. Joana’s caring nature makes her perfect for the medical profession, but it also makes her feel the pain and losses around her more keenly. She feels guilt over the people she hasn’t been able to save, but she fights hard for those around her to make up for it. There is an element of romance to the story between her and Florian.
- Florian – A Prussian boy about nineteen or twenty. He has incredible artistic skill (specializes in restoring artwork) and was unwittingly part of Hitler’s efforts to steal the world’s most precious works of art. When he realizes what is happening, he flees – with a dangerous secret.
- Alfred – A German soldier in his twenties. Unlike the other characters, he believes in Hitler’s ideals and mission. Much of his story is told through “letters” that he writes to his long lost love in his head, but it becomes obvious relatively early on that something is “off” about him – his letters do not match the bits of reality that we see around him. I don’t want to say too much about Alfred because I feel like it would spoil things, but I will say that his character is fascinating (not always in the best of ways).
- Emotional roller coaster. This book took me on an incredible emotional journey. One that never lessened its grip on my heart. Even though I knew the tragic end to this story, that didn’t lessen the emotional impact in any way. This book ended with me in tears – no surprise there!
What Left Me Wanting More:
- Not much. I have to really stretch to think of anything about this book that I didn’t love. So, I’m not going to try.
If you’re at all interested in WWII historical fiction, if you enjoy tragic stories like the story of The Titanic or if you just enjoy emotionally compelling books, you should pick this book up! I easily give it 5/5 stars!
***Disclosure: I received this book as a gift (thanks Emily @ Red House Books). Emily picked the book up at ALA in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. As an author of historical fiction, Ruta is drawn to stories of strength through struggle. Her award-winning debut novel, “Between Shades of Gray” was inspired by her family’s history in Lithuania and is published in 45 countries. Her second novel, “Out of the Easy” is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, and her third novel “Salt to the Sea” exposes one of the greatest hidden disasters of World War II. Ruta lives in a treehouse in the hills of Tennessee.
Wonderful review – I like that you broke down the characters for us! It makes me even MORE excited to read this one. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but I always want to check out books set during WWII because there are so many stories that can be told.
I don’t read many historicals either, but this one was definitely worth making an exception!
Yay for five stars rating. I just scammed trough your review because I amfraid of the spoilers and would like to go blind into this story, even though I already know what it is about.
I am waiting for croatian publishers to put this novel on the market (because I know they will) so I can read it in my native language…
Hope it gets to you in Croatia soon!
Woohoo! I just received this book in the mail and I absolutely CANNOT wait.
Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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I hope you love it as much as I did!!
I have been hearing so much about this book. Although I haven’t read anything by this author before, I do really want to try this one myself. I feel like it deals with some themes that are really relevant for today and that this one does show me something new – especially with its perspective on WWII. I’m very much looking forward to it.
I had never read anything by this author before either. I will definitely look for more of her books, though!
I cannot wait to read this book! I am such a fun of historical fiction!
I hope you have a chance to read it and love it as much as I did!
Wow, your review makes this sound completely unmissable! Thanks for the chance at a copy – It’s definitely on my Want list.
I really hope you have a chance to read it Lory – it’s fantastic!
I’m reading this book and I feel like I should disengage my emotional anchors toward the characters because I fear of the heartbreaks for them. Gah. Oh well, heartbreaks make us grow – even in books. 🙂
It is the type of book that you have to brace yourself to read. I’ll be interested to see what you think when you’re finished!
I’m actually not reading the review beyond the subtitles and bolded lines, because I am so resistant to knowing anything about books before reading them, and I already know I want to read this. Between Shades of Grey and Out of the Easy were both amazing. I think I’ve mentioned before that my kids are Lithuanian, and I’ve lived about five years in Eastern Europe, so this is a part of the world I love reading about!
I hope you get the chance to read it and love it as much as I did – I think that Eastern European connection will make it even more powerful for you.
I need this book SO badly. I don’t think I have read a single negative review about this book. Like the WORST one I read was still about 3.5* bwhahah. I didn’t read the whole review, because of course, I want to go into the story blind, but I read the basics 😀 I love that you couldn’t even think of a negative! Those are my favorite kinds of books 😀
P.S.- ‘Twas the week before BEA and I somehow gained 18 books… (No joke. How did I manage this!? I was trying to clear my shelves!)
18 books?! Ha! I’ve been trying so hard to be good and not get any other books when I KNOW my shelves are going to be overflowing again after next week. It’s SO hard!! 🙂
Awesome review. I want to read this one so bad. It sounds like the kind of book I’d love.
I think it does seem like the type of book you’d love – I hope you get a chance to read it!!
I want to read this one so bad right now! I think it is one of the books I requested on Netgalley and was neither approved or denied.
That’s the worst – you keep thinking, “Maybe there’s still a chance?” And then the publish date comes and goes and you realize it’s definitely not happening. Sigh.
I am so excited for this book! I am obsessed with WWII books, maybe because I love books that break my heart a little. Of course all books about WWII break my heart a little.
I almost never read historicals, but when I DO it’s pretty much always about WWII. Something about that era fascinates me.
So far, I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about this one so even though it’s not my usual genre, I really, REALLY want to read it! I love WWII setting but they’re very sad generally speaking, so I’m prepared for a kick in the feels! Lovely review my friend ♥
It’s not my typical read either, but I’m SO glad my secret sis picked it up for me!
I enjoyed learning about the multiple points of view and how she has taken something that is so little known from WWII for her book. It sounds like a riveting read.
Yes – we’ve all learned a lot about WWII, but this major event isn’t something that’s ever really talked about!
I am really excited for this one. I love the different view of WWII. Great review!
Salt to the sea sounds great ♡ Looking forward to reading this book. Thank you
It IS!!! 🙂
Historical fiction isn’t my normal genre, but the reviews on this book has me wanting to branch out! Oh wow, I love how the chapters alternate between the 4 of them and that they are short so you constantly want to read what the others are thinking and experiencing. This sounds fabulous and when I want to step into this genre I think this sounds like the perfect book! Thanks Nicole!
It’s not my normal genre either. Strangely, it seems that almost every historical fiction book I pick up is from WWII – I think that period is fascinating!
I have been wanting to read this book and your review convinced me even more that I need to read it. Sounds like such a unique book and sounds SO good! Thanks for the chance to win!
It’s definitely unique, especially with the four POVs – I hope you get a chance to read it and love it!
I keep hearing good things about this book. Thanks for the review.
I was just surfing my collection of favorited book blogs on bloglovin to see what’s new and especially to check out all the BEA coverage, so your recent post caught my eye and draw me to visit the blog properly (only an occasional reader to date).
A good browse of various material revealed this giveaway — a true find, in my experience. All giveaways for this title a)took place some time ago,and b)were fully as popular as the title’s buzz and author’s reputation would suggest — or so it seemed to me. I have never read this author, am psyched about reading this particular work of hers above all others, and I am so grateful for this nugget of blog giveaway goodness months after the apex of the hype! Thanks for the top content and the always thoughtful approach you bring to this blog. Cheers, Kara S
Sometimes it’s fun to find a review or giveaway after the hype has died down, right? I was late to the game on this one, but I’m SO glad I read it!
Thanks for covering all the bases in your review! I read the others other book set in Louisiana and was not sure if I would like her latest. But after reading your review, I think I will love it! Thanks for the giveaway. 🙂
I haven’t read any of Sepetys’s books before, but I will definitely pick up more now!
Ruta Sepetys’s books are amazing. I can’t wait for read this book. I like the idea of multiples povs, is diferent of her others books, and sounds like they will be amazing