“History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past.” – Ruta Sepetys, Author’s Note
Synopsis from Goodreads: Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war. As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. Yet not all promises can be kept. Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.
Feelings: Let me start off by acknowledging that I tend to get super hyped about a book that other people don’t love. And I’m okay with that. Sometimes a book just meets you exactly where you are and moves you, speaks to you, and thrills you. THIS BOOK, THOUGH. This…this book is beyond my current breadth of adjectives. It was beautiful and heart-wrenching and an absolute masterpiece.
THE WRITING. At the time that I’m typing this review, I have only read Sepetys’s book Out of the Easy, but I’ll be reading Between Shades of Gray soon for book club. There were so many lines that I reread multiple times because they were so powerful and haunting. This book is going to stay with me for a very long time. [I have recently learned that there’s a connection between this book and Between Shades of Gray! These are characters in each that are related.]
Characters: I completely fell in love with Emilia, Florian, and Joana. It took me a good 25 pages to get into the groove of the story and figure out who everyone was. I literally had to make a list for each person and add details about them as I learned them, just to keep everyone straight. So if you’re confused at first, stick with it. You won’t regret it.
The way we learned about each character was so natural and real. Every page taught me something new about these characters and drew me in more and more. Each voice was distinct and personal. By the time the story was over, I was completely immersed in their lives, as I’d taken this long journey with them.
The ending was so beautiful. With a story about the greatest maritime disaster in history, the ending really could have been sad and broken and hopeless. However, Sepetys left me with hope and a sense of mourning, in a good way. I feel empowered to research this disaster and, as she calls us to do in her notes, give a voice to the voiceless.
Genre: I love historical fiction, but it’s one of those genres that I have to be in the mood for. What’s great (and consistent) about Sepetys’s writing is the level of research that she does. When I read her books, it’s very obvious to me that she knows what she’s talking about because every detail makes historical sense.
Final thoughts: Even after the last page, I couldn’t stop reading. I read all of her notes, the acknowledgements, even the back cover again. I couldn’t get enough of her words. Even now, I want more. I almost feel like starting this book from the beginning all over again. Trust me, friend. Read this book. Read it now.
Pick this up if you liked:
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Goodreads rating: 4.53/5
Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5
My rating: 5/5
Happy reading! – Caitlyn