Wednesday, September 20, 2017

JH Book Club Kicks Off a New Year
with Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Paperback edition
I love love LOVE junior high book club!!  We had our first meeting of the school year this afternoon, discussing the top notch historical fiction novel Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.  Long hidden from history, the 1945 sinking of the Nazi ship Wilhelm Gustloff  in the Baltic Sea, remains the deadliest maritime disaster of all time.  The deeply researched novel is told in the voices of 4 different young adults -- a Lithuanian girl, a Polish girl, a Prussian boy and a young German sailor -- during the German mass evacuation along the Eastern Front, ahead of the advancing Russian Army.  The Nazis kept the tragedy quiet, and survivors found the story too painful to tell.  Most of the characters in Salt to the Sea are made up, but their stories are universally true.  The enthusiasm and thoughtfulness that everybody brought made for a lively discussion of events, plot twists and of course, favorite scenes and characters.  Awesome!

Not to mention that this year we've got a solid returning group of 8th graders, and another group of new 7th graders joining in.  We had 9 members today, which is double the usual number from last year.  Each and every one is an avid reader.  The kids even picked up on a connection that I totally missed, between this and the author's earlier historical novel, Between Shades of Gray.  I think we're going to have a great year.

October's book will be a horse of an entirely different color, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger.  It's a rollicking steampunk mystery adventure, complete with weaponized corsets, vampires, werewolves, and floating finishing schools.

Usually for book club I pull together info, visuals, videos and other interesting information into a blog post so I can display it during the meeting.  Especially for historical fiction, it's incredibly powerful to see photographs, maps and film clips of the real people and places behind the story.  Then, after the meeting, I add more as a record of how the meeting went.  Below are fascinating resources for anybody interested in finding out more, starting with a link to the online Wilhelm Gustloff museum, an author video about the book, and maps showing importation locations in the book and the path of the advancing Russian Army.

The online-only Wilhelm Gustloff museum is a tremendous source
of information about the ship, the tragedy and the people's stories.


Map from the book.

Map showing the Russian Army advances.

Author Ruta Sepetys talks about writing the book, the research and her personal history as daughter of a refugee.


NPR Interview with Ruta Sepetys

Sinking Hitler's Supership: The Last Voyage of the Wilhelm Gustloff
A National Geographic documentary

Sinking the Gustloff: A Tragedy Exiled from Memory

A 45-minute documentary about the Wilhelm Gustloff disaster. It includes the history of the ship and the civilian evacuation at the end of WWII, and follows three survivors as they recount their stories and go back to the site.

Book Review in the New York Times

Salt to the Sea resources on the author's website