Book Reviews

Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman


I have to admit I almost put this down. The opening just didn’t grab me right away. Am I glad I didn’t! How often do you call a book haunting? I mean really haunting. I dreamt about this book, found myself thinking about it at odd moments, and still feel the veil of its spell confounding my worldview. One of the reasons I love to read is that I get to step into someone’s shoes and experience the world through a character very different from myself. Shusterman didn’t put me inside his character right off the bat…it took a few pages…it took a few scenes…but oh, boy, once he got me inside Caden’s head it was an experience I won’t forget. The journey takes you from sanity, gradually sinking into insanity where nothing is trustworthy, to drugged insanity where “dulled” takes on new meaning, to gradual clarity—it’s no happily ever after. The possibility of losing that tentative grasp onto the real world is ever present. But the ending is not without hope, if you can find your way out of the abyss once, you can do it again. Sometimes you have to hang on to that. For anyone who wants to have empathy for a battle fought against inner demons—this is it. Stick with it, your efforts will be repaid a bazillion-fold.

salt to the sea

salt to the sea

Salt to the Sea takes place in the winter of 1945 when the Soviets are advancing on the Germans in East Prussia. Millions of refugees are forced to flee their homeland, leaving everything behind. Ruta Sepetys tells the story of the evacuation through the eyes of four characters—a Lithuanian girl, a Polish girl, an East Prussian boy, and a young Nazi sailor—each burdened by their own painful secrets. Their journey is wrought with challenges as their ragged little group makes its way to the coast, and the ship they believe will bring them to safety. The scenes are vivid and disturbing—and yet Sepetys keeps us from despair through deftly placed acts of humanity that can’t fail to touch the reader.

 Sepetys’ work of historical fiction is inspired by the true story of the Soviet torpedoing and sinking of the German ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, carrying ten thousand refugees—half of them children. It was the greatest naval disaster in history.

 One of the things I like most about reading is when a writer is good enough to transport you into the soul of another person—when the world around you disappears and you enter a brilliantly crafted landscape, and experience a life you never would otherwise. Today millions of refugees are seeking safety around the globe. Salt to the Sea gave me a glimpse into their anguish, and I hope will make me a more compassionate person because of that privilege.

 Keep tabs on this incredible storyteller at her website.

 I can’t wait to read what she writes next!

© Jill Rubalcaba 2014