Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys


Title: Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Date Published: February 2, 2016 by Philomel Books

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: 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.


“What had human beings become? Did war make us evil or just activate an evil already lurking within us?”

This was good, but not mind-blowingly so for me unfortunately. While I did really enjoy it, there was still some flaws and issues I had. I just…I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this one.

To start off I will say that this was my first Ruta Sepetys’ book and I am thoroughly impressed. I definitely see what all the hype is about when it comes to her writing. Her writing style is very beautiful and gripping. She did a wonderful job at setting the scene and pulling me into the story. I also liked that this was based on the Wilhelm Gustloff disaster because it is something that is hardly if ever taught in school. I really appreciated that and you can tell that she’s done her research and I commend and respect her for talking about this and giving it the attention that it deserves.

I think one of the main things I struggled with was the pacing; it was kind of all over the place the entire time. The beginning was a bit chaotic because we’re splitting the story between four characters, alternating each chapter, and the chapters are extremely short. So with all of that the beginning felt like a mess because it was bouncing around and I was getting confused because I didn’t know anyone. Once the main three meet and everything settles a bit, it gets a lot better but there were times in the middle where it felt really slow. Then the ending was really rushed and felt incomplete and I didn’t like that at all. It should’ve been fleshed out more because it definitely felt abrupt.

The characters, with the exception of one, were the highlights for me. Like I mentioned, the story is split between four characters: Florian, Joana, Emilia and Alfred. I absolutely loved Emilia and Joana, they were my favorite characters. Emilia was just such a sweet, gentle soul and she was selfless and loving. I felt for her so much. The situation she went through was awful but she still managed to be positive about it all and I adored that. Joana was amazing. She was selfless, compassionate, brave, intelligent and at times snarky. I loved how she was always willing to help and her friendship with Emilia was everything for me.

Florian started off kind of iffy for me but he did go through some development but I never got as attached to him as I did Emilia and Joana. I just wanted more from his character. Though I did love his relationship with Joana in the end.

Alfred was bizarre and felt really unnecessary in retrospect to me. I didn’t get his character or his purpose and I feel as if his character was really one dimensional. I thought he was going to play a big integral part in the end, but nope. It was almost like he wasn’t even needed. The ball was definitely dropped with his character to say the least.

Overall, despite the issues I had with it, I feel like this is a really beautiful and important book on a really important real life disaster and I would still recommend it.

My Rating:


Have you guys read this one yet? Were you as conflicted about it as me? Let me know!


Author: Jamie @therebelliousreader

I run on words and coffee.

4 thoughts on “Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

  1. I really liked it. Actually I liked it so much I lent it to my European history teacher and she finished it in two days and told all of her students to read it. I agree that the pacing threw me off a little, but I think maybe not as much as you. I’ve read her other two books so I was used to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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