Salt to the Sea|Ruta Sepetys


New York Times Bestseller and winner of the Carnegie Medal Masterfully crafted--The Wall Street Journal

For readers of Between Shades of Gray and All the Light We Cannot See, Ruta Sepetys returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war's most devastating--yet unknown--tragedies.

World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people--adults and children alike--aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson's Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein's Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff--the greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

Praise for Salt to the Sea

Featured on NPR's Morning Edition ♦ Superlative...masterfully crafted... a] powerful work of historical fiction.--The Wall Street Journal ♦ Sepetys is] a master of YA fiction...she once again anchors a panoramic view of epic tragedy in perspectives that feel deeply textured and immediate.--Entertainment Weekly ♦ Riveting...powerful...haunting.--The Washington Post ♦ Compelling for both adult and teenage readers.--New York Times Book Review ♦ Intimate, extraordinary, artfully crafted...brilliant.--Shelf Awareness ♦ Historical fiction at its very, very best.--The Globe and Mail H]aunting, heartbreaking, hopeful and altogether of the best young-adult novels to appear in a very long time.--Salt Lake Tribune ♦ *This haunting gem of a novel begs to be remembered.--Booklist *Artfully told and sensitively crafted...will leave readers weeping.--School Library Journal ♦ A PW and SLJ 2016 Book of the Year

Praise for Between Shades of Gray
A New York Times Notable Book ♦ A Wall Street Journal Best Children's Book ♦ A PW, SLJ, Booklist, and Kirkus Best Book ♦ iTunes 2011 Rewind Best Teen Novel ♦ A Carnegie Medal and William C. Morris Finalist ♦ A New York Times and International Bestseller ♦ Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both.--The Washington Post ♦ * A]n important book that deserves the widest possible readership.--Booklist


  • ISBN-13: 9780399160301
  • ISBN-10: 0399160302
  • Publisher: Philomel Books
  • Publish Date: February 2016
  • Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Page Count: 400
  • Reading Level: Ages 12-UP

The buoyancy of hope amid war

BookPage Teen Top Pick, February 2016

On January 30, 1945, a Soviet submarine torpedoed the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff, killing more than 9,000 people. While designated as a military transport vessel, the Wilhelm Gustloff was severely overloaded with civilian evacuees from the Baltic region, including an estimated 5,000 children. The high death toll makes this sinking the greatest maritime tragedy in history. Today, the wreckage still lies off Poland’s coast and is often referred to as “the ghost ship.”

Acclaimed author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) explores this little-known World War II tragedy in her intense and compelling third novel. Salt to the Sea focuses on the lives of four young people from different homelands, each separated from their families during wartime. The narrative shifts throughout as Joana, Emilia, Florian and Alfred chronicle the often terrifying events that bring them together. The first three are seeking escape on the crowded ship; Alfred is one of the Nazi soldiers stationed on it. 

To tell this harrowing tale, Sepetys traveled to several countries to research the event, but she also has a family connection: Her father’s cousin fled Lithuania and had a pass for the ill-fated voyage, but she ended up on another ship. In the author’s note, Sepetys writes: “As I wrote this novel I was haunted by the thoughts of the helpless children and teenagers—innocent victims of border shifts, ethnic cleansings, and vengeful regimes.” 

Teen readers will be drawn in by the short chapters, strong characters and heartbreaking story. In scenes reminscent of the sinking of the Titanic, matters of life and death are decided in a single moment.


This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.