Audience: Young Adult
Guilt is a hunter.
– First sentence
This is more than just a story about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, although that is the historical event that inspired it. The book follows the journey of a group of refugees trying to escape war and find freedom. They have a long and arduous journey ahead of them, but if they can make it to the ship (and get aboard), they will have a chance to survive.
We follow the journey from the point of view of four teens: three refugees (each with their own secrets) and a sociopathic soldier with an inflated sense of his own importance. The point of view changes with each section and the effect can be disconcerting. Even though the change of narrator was tough to follow, I did like knowing what the characters were thinking and seeing the different ways they reacted to the same situation.
I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but when I do, it tends to be from the WWII era. I did enjoy the book and felt it was extremely realistic. Sepetys doesn’t shy away from horrific events or from showing the reactions of the characters. By the time the ship started sinking, I was totally rooting for the good characters to live and the bad ones to die, and on the edge of my seat. And of course, the end was heartbreaking even though parts of it were good.