Joana, Florian, Emilia all have something in common. They are all fleeing from memories, ghosts and the advancing Russian army during the last few months of World War II. Joana is traveling with a group of displaced people and while she has some medical experience as a nurse, she can’t stop some of the more horrific things she sees along the way.
Florian is running. He has many secrets and one of them is that he can’t get caught by the Nazis. If he is, it will mean certain death for him. Emilia is struggling to stay alive and not get caught by the Russian army. When she and Florian meet by chance, she decides she will follow him no matter where he goes because of a good deed he has done for her.
The path these three souls are on, as well as thousands of others, is captured in stark language in Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Each of the characters in this book is striving and looking for a better tomorrow, without much hope for the eventuality. One blind girl must pass inspection by the Nazis in order to continue on the journey, but anyone with a disability is summarily executed. A little boy wanders out of the forest and says his grandmother won’t wake up. A shoemaker knows that a person’s shoes could mean the difference between life and death.
This book, in addition to highlighting the many Germany civilians who were fleeing at the end of the war, shows how others became refugees during this traumatic time in world history. And it sheds light onto a little known tragedy that occurred in the Baltic Sea as thousands and thousands were trying to flee.
Recommended for grades 8 and up.