Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: February 2, 2016
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.
Sepetys crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.
I have a love/hate relationship with Ruta. She’s such a great story teller, and I think her works should be on every history teacher’s shelf as a great educational resource. I love her characters and she loves picking slightly obscure events within bigger, more famous circumstances. But she also loves to let stories hang. At the end, they just stop abruptly, but then time races forward and a little more info is given before the book just ends. There’s no real resolution and the “future” info is given with no real context. Why do it, Ruta????? We want more and you refuse to ever give it to us!!!!
Salt to the Sea has such wonderful characters that you end up caring about and rooting for and getting so excited about. The story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is a little known chapter of WW2; I had never heard of it, and I couldn’t wait to learn something new. Then everything just stops. She then gives just enough to “end” the story without “stopping” completely . . . But it’s not enough! What happened between 1945 and 1969? What happened with the Christensens that Emilia made that big of an impact? It’s just so incomplete and I’ve really never been sadder about the ending of a book! Every teen needs to read this book because they will learn a lot from it. But, please, Ruta!! Please stop doing this to us!!
Author: Armando Lucas Correa
Published: May 7, 2019
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 3 stars
BERLIN, 1939: The dreams that Amanda Sternberg and her husband, Julius, had for their daughters are shattered when the Nazis descend on Berlin, burning down their beloved family bookshop and sending Julius to a concentration camp. Desperate to save her children, Amanda flees toward the south of France, where the widow of an old friend of her husband’s has agreed to take her in. Along the way, a refugee ship headed for Cuba offers another chance at escape and there, at the dock, Amanda is forced to make an impossible choice that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Once in Haute-Vienne, her brief respite is interrupted by the arrival of Nazi forces, and Amanda finds herself in a labor camp where she must once again make a heroic sacrifice.
NEW YORK, 2015: Eighty-year-old Elise Duval receives a call from a woman bearing messages from a time and country that she forced herself to forget. A French Catholic who arrived in New York after World War II, Elise is shocked to discover that the letters were from her mother, written in German during the war. Despite Elise’s best efforts to stave off her past, seven decades of secrets begin to unravel.
I’m so sad about this book. I wanted to love it and I’d been looking forward to reading it for quite a while. I know that reviewing WWII/Holocaust books can be tricky, especially when the review isn’t completely positive. The premise for this book held so much potential. The characters also had great range of emotions and I easily sympathized with them. However, the main thing that didn’t work, and I hope no one misinterprets what I’m saying, is that everyone was so melodramatic.
Some books don’t convey the horrors of war or of the Holocaust and I try to call them out on it. But this book almost had a parallel, yet still opposite effect. It wasn’t like reading a history book, it was like watching a soap opera version of WWII/Holocaust stories. I tried to see the emotions underneath everything, but if the writing had its nose up in the air any higher, it would have drowned when it rained. I sincerely doubt that those who were arrested by the Nazis spent so much time poetically identifying their feelings. It all just felt so over the top, in a not good way at all.
Plus, I felt like a whole half of the story wasn’t being told. I wanted to hear about Viera’s life in Cuba. Everyone else got to be so emotional, why didn’t she? I wanted so badly to love this story and the characters, it just all fell flat. However, I will say that it did hold my attention, and for such lofty writing, it was very easy to read. Overall, this is not my favorite WWII/Holocaust literature, but I don’t want to write it off completely. It was by no means a bad book, it just isn’t for me.
Author: Kip WIlson
Published: April 2, 2019
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
A gorgeous and timely novel based on the incredible story of Sophie Scholl, a young German college student who challenged the Nazi regime during World War II as part of The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group.
Disillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. The following year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated for information about their collaborators.
We are on a roll with all these covers in 2019! The Most Gorgeous Cover Tournament is going to be impossible this year!
I enjoyed this book very much. I’m a bit conflicted about my rating, simply because I like how the verse formatting allowed me to get through it quickly, hence I felt super accomplished, but I also am not a huge fan of verse formatting in general and I think it took something away from the story. It felt so impersonal. And the story was emotional and passionate, so it’s sad that I didn’t get all the feels like I should have.
This story also made me aware of something that has always been right under the surface, but keeps popping up and ruining wonderful things. Politics. Y’all know I hate politics in fiction. Fiction should be an escape from real life and usually you’re either on one side or the other and therefore, politics is a no win situation for half the population. Just keep it all out so everyone can enjoy stuff! The sad thing is that everything has become so saturated with politics and which side you’re on and who you voted for is your identity, that it seems to affect everything, even things that shouldn’t be politics related. I find myself comparing everything to our current political climate and in my mind, create problems that aren’t actually there. I’ve even starting looking for political jabs in books about WW2 and Nazi Germany that shouldn’t be there and aren’t there. I hate it. I don’t want to think this way. And what was nice about White Rose is that Wilson kept current politics completely out of it. Any comparisons made were completely out of my own mind. She didn’t even add any little lectures in her acknowledgment section. I really liked that. I felt rebuked by my own imagination and for doing things that I criticize others for.
So even though I doubt the author intended it, I learned more about myself and my perceptions and hopefully become more mature in my reading. So I did enjoy this book, I learned a lot, and I absolutely recommend it. I would also say this is one of the fiction books that belong on high school history teachers shelves! Very good book!