When Historical Fiction Succeeds: Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea is a young adult, historical fiction novel that follows four refugees fleeing Germany at the end of World War II. Their destination? The Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that ended up being torpedoed and sunk by Soviets soon after its departure. The result was the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking, almost five times the amount of lives lost in the sinking of the Titanic.

When Historical Fiction Succeeds: Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Narrator: Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, Michael Crouch
Length: 8 hrs and 50 mins
Format: Audiobook
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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.

dark secrets, wartime horrors, and a ship that sinks

Why I liked it:

When a historical fiction novel results in you spending hours of time reading more about the historical event itself, you know it did a good job.

Rupa Sepetys was extraordinary in crafting the tales of four refugees:  Florean is a Prussian soldier who is in his late teens. Joana is a early-twenties nurse from Lithuania.  Emilia is a young, Polish teenager carrying a very heaven burden. And Alfred (arguably the most complex and fascinating character) is an insecure, lowly German soldier.

These characters’ storylines weave together to create a compelling yet tragic story over the backdrop of WWII’s end. This novel highlights an relatively unknown event of WWII: After reading this book, I was shocked that I had never heard of the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff and its staggering death toll.  It’s an important reminder that no matter the “enemy,” everyone suffered during World War II.


I would recommend this novel to almost everyone. This is incredibly important story from WWII, and it deserves to be heard.

Have you read Salt to the Sea? What were your thoughts? What other WWII historical fiction would you recommend?

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    1. Thanks Kristen! And yes, it’s always a good historical fiction novel when I sit down after and spend a ton of time looking the event up! XD

  1. I haven’t read this, but I have it on my shelves and I need to! I read and loved so much historical fiction back in the days before I started blogging but haven’t read much since I started. I bought this because I’ve heard such good things, and I love HF that makes you want to research and learn more about the event. That’s when it’s been done well in my opinion. Great review!
    -Monica @ Tomes Project

    1. Yes, if you like historical fiction I definitely think you’d enjoy this one. Especially since the event it’s talking about is relatively unknown and so tragic. Thank you for stopping by!