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The student-generated news site of Mount Saint Joseph Academy

The Campanile

The student-generated news site of Mount Saint Joseph Academy

The Campanile

Kaelyn McFadden ‘25 photographs Sofia Glantz ‘25 choosing between the 3 Target Exclusive vinyls
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Bookmarked!: November HISTORICAL FICTION 2023

This month celebrates history!
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a young adult historical fiction novel set in WWII.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a young adult historical fiction novel set in WWII.

This month’s theme was Historical Fiction, and we read Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys! A synopsis of the book and our reviews are below.


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 (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) 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.

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“Absolutely obsessed.

Salt to the Sea takes place in Europe of 1945 during World War ll, and is told from four different perspectives: Joana- a Lithuanian nurse, Florian- a Prussian restoration artist, Emilia- a young girl from Poland, and Alfred- a German soldier. As the perspectives change by chapter, you can clearly feel the individual voices each character had. On their journey to evacuate to West Germany by boat, the first three meet Alfred, where their lives begin to intermingle and depend on one another. As they get to know each other, they begin to discover each other’s hidden secrets and individual lives. This novel reveals the tragedies of war and the extent people will go to save their own lives. These teenagers are wise beyond their years and it’s sad to think that the war has led them to be like that.

I first read this book in middle school, and have probably read it 10 times now. Ruta Sepetys is an amazing author and all of her books are so captivating. Five stars all the way! It’s crazy to read and hear their thoughts on the war and their different points of view. For example, Alfred, the Nazi, believes he is a hero and thinks he is helping the world, while having such an innocent sinful attitude when trying to validate killing groups of people. The effect of society and society’s pressure on these teenagers, the same age as I am, is certainly baffling to read. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction with a dash of romance and mystery.”

— Elizabeth Vasquez, ‘25


“I first read this book in 8th grade, and I didn’t fully comprehend the message of Salt to the Sea until now. This book is rich with real-world issues and distinct commentary on the nature of war. Truthfully, I didn’t expect for a young adult fiction novel to have such a complex storyline. This book hits hard and is cutting with its events, all while making the reader sympathize with the characters, who, despite their hardships, endure with amazing fortitude.

I found it interesting that Ruta Sepetys chose to not only give perspectives to the sympathetic characters of the story, three people, children really, who all flee the war for different reasons, but also to a normally unsympathetic character, a devoted Nazi named Alfred. I found his way of thinking terrible in its twisted way, but also fascinating from a psychological viewpoint. This novel explores the psychology of people facing war from multiple fronts, and that is part of the reason why I love this book so much. Five stars. I highly recommend Salt to the Sea to anyone willing to sit down and read a novel that deals with heavy themes, real world events, and also a bit of romance and adventure.”

— Sine Thompson, ‘24


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