As often as I can get out of my 1-2-0-3-3 zip code, or even better 5-1-8 area code, I do. Be it as it may, on this particular school break, until this afternoon, I had yet to physically manage to get much out of either. However, I did leave the 2-0-1-6 for several hours yesterday-this morning and am grateful to Ruta Sepetys for that experience.
I feel a little naughty, too, reading a young adult novel. You know I love my middle grade and joke that I have a fifth grade reading level. However, every once in awhile, and I mean while, it is nice to break away. It is the season of naughty and nice after all, right?
My friend and amazing Albany HS librarian, Alicia Abdul, recommended Ruta Septeys to me back in the summer and I finally was able to download the book the other day. As an ebook, there is no flap or back cover to get a hint of what the book was about. And honestly, if Alicia told me (and I'm sure she did) I forgot and dove into it completely blind and naive about it all. I believe because of this, I enjoyed the experience even more. My heart raced faster, my jaw dropped further in surprise and my tears were saltier. This is going to become my new go-to recommend book for young adults and up.
It is 1945 Prussia in a month where "January's teeth bit sharp." This vivid language from only a few pages got me hooked immediately.
Four young people. Four different points of view: Emilia, a Polish girl with a secret; Joana, a hardworking Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a suspicious handsome man on a mission; and, Alfred, a German soldier constantly writing updates in mental love letters.
Eventually, they all come together, along with 10,000 other men, women and children on board the Wilhelm Gustloff with visions of freedom on the other side of the Baltic Sea. But, the Russians had another idea for this ship that was "pregnant with lost souls conceived of war. They would crowd into her belly and she would give birth to their freedom..." and this is the story of hope, survival and sacrifice of those who end up together on this "ship...born of death."
I was quickly sold on Sepetys rich language and descriptions. Here, Alfred in one of his mental letters to Hannelore, explains "...we heroes eat danger atop our porridge for breakfast..." To be able to write like she does and get in the mind of this young German soldier is heroic and delicious enough for me.
Searching for freedom in an icy, snowy, cold January, Emilia describes: "Snow was falling, making everything appear fresh. The white snow covered the dark truth. Pressed white linen over a scarred table, a crisp clean sheet over a stained mattress." Line after line, page after page, the metaphors along with the historical significance, should make this a required reading for every high school student.
Only after finishing the book and reading the author's notes did I then go to her webpage. I'm in awe and have her other two books on hold for me at the library. I will indulge once again in YA. I'm hooked and I know a few of you will be once you get your hands on Salt to the Sea, too. You've heard me say this before but make sure your day and night are free (no putting down this one) and a box of Kleenex is nearby.
As an aside, Ruta Sepetys's website has a ton of resources available if you want to learn more about the Wilhelm Gustoff. I know, I do. Also, here is a great video of her talking about the book that includes many original photographs. Just watching this video made me start crying again.
So, enjoy the characters. Enjoy the language. And let the story soak in. Most of all, take advantage of the escape from wheverever your zip code is. Then listen to the advice from Joana's father and take a break because "Sometimes living life is more instructive than studying it." Ahhh...thank you Ruta for letting me live life outside the 1-2-0-3-3 for just a bit.