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Books in Brief: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys; Worm loves Worm by J.J. Austrian

young adult

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys; Philomel Books, $18.99. 278 pages Ages 12 and up.

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The author of critically acclaimed “Between Shades of Gray” and “Out of the Easy” uses the unforgettable voices of four young people (Joanna, Emilia, Florian and Alfred) to tell, through alternating points of view, in very personal terms the story of a little-known tragedy of World War II: the sinking by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff on Jan. 30, 1945, killing an estimated 9,000 people, more than half of them children, during the evacuation across the Baltic Sea of soldiers and civilians fleeing the Soviet advance. In her remarkable, exhaustively researched novel, Sepetys vividly evokes the chaos and terror of this confusing mass exodus of humanity through frozen terrain in the dead of winter, as the three young people – the pregnant Polish girl (Amelia), the Lithuanian nurse (Joana) and the wounded Prussian (Florian) – join together with an elderly shoemaker, a young boy, a blind girl and an obnoxious giant named Eva in their odyssey toward the sea. The fourth voice in the novel is that of Alfred, a misfit drafted late into the German Army, his strange views and imaginings revealed through letters he is writing to the girl next door. Sepetys adds a thrilling note of suspense in Florian’s role as a gifted artist and art restorer with dangerous knowledge of the Nazis’ massive art thefts including the whereabouts of the legendary Amber Room. In an author’s note at the end, Sepetys (whose father was a refugee from Lithuania) notes that 25,000 people died in the Baltic Sea in 1945 alone (including 7,000 Jewish concentration camp survivors killed when British RAF planes bombed ships).

– Jean Westmoore

PICTURE BOOK

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian; illustrated by Mike Curato; Balzer & Bray, $17.99 Ages 4 to 8.

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The back cover declares “You are cordially invited to celebrate the wedding of a worm … and a worm,” a beguiling invitation to this rather droll picture book with a very clear message about celebrating love in all its forms.

– Jean Westmoore