Read a different genre
A writer must not only keep up to date with reading trends in her/his own genre, but also take time to read a different genre. It’s how we learn our craft and it’s great fun too. I’ve been working on the first draft of my new crime thriller and, in breaks from scribbling, have dipped into the world of teen fiction. The recent stand-out book for me is Salt to the Sea. Here’s my review.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
As with her earlier book Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys has again written a compelling Young Adult novel about a little known, but dark and brutal chapter in twentieth century history. This time her characters are evacuees, fleeing East Prussia ahead of advancing Russian troops in the closing stages of the Second World War. Two million people were successfully evacuated by sea to Germany from the east. However, many thousands perished in the Baltic when their vessels were attacked by Allied forces. Sepetys’s characters end up aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship designed for fifteen hundred passengers but carrying ten thousand. It is torpedoed by a Russian submarine and, with the loss of 9400 lives, becomes the biggest single disaster in maritime history. Meticulously researched (for example, the female naval auxiliary really were billeted in the drained swimming pool on the ship and perished there), Sepetys brings us this story from the viewpoints of four young people: Joana, a surgeon’s assistant from Lithuania; Florian, a brooding, mysterious Prussian; Emilia, a scared but resilient Polish teenager; and Alfred, an ineffectual German sailor. They are joined on their journey by a wise shoemaker, a lost boy, a tactless woman and a blind girl – a memorable cast of believable characters that the reader will care about.
This is a first rate, accurate historical novel that deserves a wider audience than the Young Adult label will probably give it. For me, it rivalled the more complex, literary Im Krebsgang by Günter Grass.
And this isn’t the only stunning novel by this author. Here’s the review I wrote in 2012 of her first novel:
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
There’s a knock at the door. Soldiers herd you and your family into trucks, keep you in appalling conditions, starve you, and force you to build your own shelter thousands of miles from home. And this isn’t just a story. It happened to thousands of Lithuanians at the hands of Stalinist invaders. Although it is a harrowing account of unspeakable brutality, it is also an uplifting story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. It leaves a lasting impression. The best teen book I’ve read for years.