Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys


So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this book wrecked me. Truly and utterly destroyed. I think I found pieces of my vital organs scattered under the covers of my bed when I was done. I loved every second of it.

This is the kind of book that’s so good, it’ll have you staying up all night reading it (like I did). It’s a book that breaks your heart, shatters your lungs, make every single breath you take feel like you’re throat is filling with broken shards of glass. It is great and terrible and eye-opening. Yet, amidst all of the heartbreak, all of the suffering, all of the pain staring you in the eye, there is hope, and that’s the glistening jewel that you just can’t let go of (much more valuable even then the amber swan itself).

“The shoes always tell the story.”

Oh. My. Gosh. The Shoe Poet was probably my absolute favorite secondary character. First, because he’s so right – shoes are important, and I am completely awed by what he can tell about a person simply by looking at their feet/shoes. Really though, I just love that The Poet brings with him hope, even through the bitter bitter end. He’s a genuinely good man, and that’s something you can’t fake – it’s who you are.

His relationship with The Wandering Boy, Klaus, is one of the sweetest things ever, and I loved getting to watch that unfold. It’s what I focused on during some of the most unspeakable moments; my safe harbor through the often rough tides of this book. I promise, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Heinz, the greatest shoemaker who ever lived (in reality or fiction).

Per aspera ad astra… Through hardship to the stars.”

Emilia. What can you even say about someone as brave and loving and strong as this girl – scratch that – woman – is? The things she went through – the things she saw – the things she survived. Wow. I don’t think I could have made it through the horrors she did when I was fifteen. In fact, I’m pretty sure that at fifteen I didn’t understand the world even half so well as Emilia does. Of all the characters, she was the one I was rooting for the most. I loved how she saw hope in unlikely places, that she was more observant than she seemed, and that she didn’t give up. She was a fighter, and I loved her fiercely for it.

“Sometimes living life is more instructive than studying it.”

Joana and Florian. Such an interesting dynamic between these two! I was NOT expecting a romance to blossom over the course of this book, but I have to say, this couple has certainly usurped Jack and Rose as “best couple falling in love while experiencing a maritime disaster together.” They both have pasts (I don’t want to spoil it so I won’t go into them), and they both feel responsible for some terrible things. But they don’t stop moving forward, and I liked that they were able to find solace in each other and save each other again and again. They make a great time, and I’m kind of madly in love with them.

“Ships capacity: 1,463

Passengers on board: 10,573

Lifeboats: 22

But then I remembered.

Ten of the lifeboats were missing”

I don’t even want to speak of Alfred, except to say that my feelings for him were venomous and that he was the only person on the ship I would not have felt sorry to see drown. That’s a terrible thing to think about another human being, and I’m trying to feel penitent about it, but I really really could not seem to see even a shred of humanity in that guy, and believe me, I was trying. War makes criminals out of good men, but it also takes bad men and gives them power, and I feel reasonably confident in saying that Alfred was one of those bad seeds waiting for a chance to grow. I shudder just thinking about him.

I really liked the four perspectives Ruta Sepetys uses in Salt to the Sea. The chapters go by more quickly when you’re constantly switching between the perspectives, and it keeps the tension of the story at like DEF CON 212 the entire time. This book is set during a time when every minute was a high stakes game, and every life was fighting for a chance at freedom. You can feel that intensity on every single page of this book, and it is terrifying and exhausting and irresistible from the get go. I’ll admit: there were a few points where I had to put it down for a minute to regain my composure. But I couldn’t stay away for more than a few minutes before I just had to know what would happen next. And then, before I knew it, it was over and now I feel like it is my duty to make sure that ever person in the world reads this book. Yes, it’s that good. Yes, it will destroy you. And yes, you will be glad you read it.

Because, despite all the darkness, this is ultimately a book about all the light.

Rating: 5+++++/5 stars 

Have you read Salt to the Sea? Did it make you sob? Do you like books that make you cry?

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