This Newbery Honor winner is one of the most powerful, heart-wrenching, beautiful books I’ve come across in awhile. The setting is WWII England. The main character, Ada, suffers from a clubfoot as well as mental and physical abuse by her mother. She is kept a virtual prisoner in the family’s roach-infested, one-room flat in London. When an opportunity arises for her and her younger brother to escape during an evacuation of the city’s children to the countryside, Ada seizes the chance. As the plot progresses, the reader realizes that the biggest hurdle facing Ada is not her twisted foot, but the damage to her psyche caused by her mother’s cruelty. The War that Saved My Life is a finely crafted story of perseverance, transformation, and ultimately. . . love.
Suggested ages: 10 and up
Over the past two decades I have reviewed thousands of books. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is one of my all-time favorites. Yes, it is that good!
The story takes place during the winter of 1945 in East Prussia and Poland. The Soviets are advancing, sending thousands of refugees fleeing toward the Polish coast.
The narrative rotates between four points-of-view. Florian is an enigmatic Prussian soldier on a personal mission. Joana, a young Lithuanian nurse, is haunted by guilt as she journeys across the war-torn landscape, helping where she can. Alfred, a sailor, harbors delusions of grandeur. And Emilia, a fifteen-year-old Latvian, is pregnant and about to give birth.
The writing is rich and lyrical. I found myself stopping constantly to admire a turn of phrase or arresting description. Each of the four voices is authentic and compelling and pulls you onward. Salt to the Sea is one of those books that remain long in your memory.
Note: Our school media specialist put this title on our Young Adult shelf (for 8th grade and up).
Reviewed by K.J. Wagner, M.A., NBCT