What the Judges Say:
‘A haunting and beautiful novel that breathes life into one of World War II’s most terrifying and little-known tragedies’ – Judging panel
What We Say:
Ruta Sepetys has form with the Carnegie: Between Shades of Gray, her debut novel telling the little known history of Lithuanians during the Second World War, was shortlisted for the award back in 2012. Salt To the Sea tells a similarly little known yet deadly narrative.
I read it in one breathy gulp of a sitting – totally swept away but genuinely aghast that I knew so little about the historical events depicted in it. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is one of the worst maritime disasters in history with a greater loss of life than that of the Titanic and the Lusitania disasters put together and yet various historical and geopolitical factors have ensured that the tragedy remains largely unknown. The book is a testament to the power of story and its ability to give the dispossessed a voice and identity.
Indeed, the success of this ‘hidden history’ doesn’t simply rest with an already poignant historical fact or the accuracy with which it is related (no pilfered tears here) – it is through the powerful voices of her characters and the ‘human story’ that they tell that the novel really sings.
The narrative is shared between the four main characters, masterfully switching between voices as their stories intertwine. The chapters are rapid fire, ramping up the tension but also offering an exploration of the chilling realities of war from multiple perspectives. There’s an added resonance to one voice in particular – readers of Sepetys’ earlier novel will recognise that Joana is in fact the cousin of Lina, the protagonist in Between Shades of Gray. It’s a nice touch that speaks eloquently to the guilt and grief experienced by families torn apart by conflict.
It’s emotional, thought provoking and pacey.
What our Shadowers Say:
Salt To The Sea is a beautifully written book. The characters are well rounded and the plot is brilliantly crafted – Emily (15)
From The Horse’s Mouth:
“Every nation has hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experienced them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past”. – Author’s Note from Salt To The Sea.
You can find out more about Salt to The Sea in the shadowing site’s video here: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=16
We’ve been industriously reading and digesting the Carnegie and Greenaway shortlists over the last couple of weeks but with only a month to go before we discover 2017’s winning titles we think it’s high time that we shared our thoughts with you…
To start us off we’re looking at Sputnik’s Guide To Life on Earth by previous Carnegie Medal winner Frank Cottrell Boyce.
What the Judges Say:
‘This writer is particularly skilled at using fantasy to say something about the world we live in and how we relate to each other and it is the relationships which really matter. Touching and credible’ – Judging panel
What We Say:
Frank Cottrell Boyce takes the story of Laika, the dog sent into space by the Russians in 1957, and asks what if she didn’t die, what if she was rescued by someone up there and told them about the wonders of Earth? Enter Sputnik, a small, rather unpredictable alien who lands on the doorstep of Prez, a young boy in care. Prez has grown up with his grandfather but the onset of dementia has meant that the two have become separated. Though he finds himself unable to speak to humans, Prez will talk to Sputnik, who having only Laika as a reference, has taken the form of a dog.
Prez’s uncertainty of his place in the world makes him hugely endearing, and Sputnik, a kind of beneficent Lord of Misrule (happy to put a lightsabre into the hands of a five year old or deploy a reverse dynamite grenade to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall), is a fantastic character able to fill the page with joy and adventure. Together the two embark on a mission to save the earth from destruction by cataloguing the reasons it is still worth seeing (according to Sputnik’s alien logic). The resulting list is both profound and ridiculous.
Sure to be a hit with young enquiring minds, this is a tale which is heart-breaking and hilarious in equal measure; it takes the poetic and the mundane and blends them into Cottrell Boyce’s own particular brand of magical realism. Readers will find themselves more than happy to suspend their disbelief – adventures are but a gravity eddy away!
From the Horse’s mouth:
Watch Frank talking about the book on the CKG website where you can also hear him read an extract: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=14
I know that enjoyment per se is not part of the Carnegie criteria so it’s perhaps a bit redundant to say it but I’ve really enjoyed reading this book – it’s a true page turner! Lake shows himself to be a masterful storyteller spinning out the suspense from the get go. We’re told that “There will be two lies. And then there will be the truth” but to say that there will be twists and turns and red herrings along the way would be an understatement.
There’s superb plotting but there’s also fantastic characterisation – Shelby is a wonderful narrator with a really distinctive voice. And through Shelby, Lake introduces some pretty big topics about the nature of identity, sense of self and survival. It’s also a very clever book where the boundaries between what is real and not real are artfully blurred; as one reviewer puts it ‘the mythic reflecting the mundane’. Indeed, whether or not the Dreaming really happened remains a hot topic in our shadowing group to this day.
However, the thing that I really enjoyed and the thing that stood out the most for me was the fact that this book was also doing something textually a bit different. Lake uses the form and layout of his pages to great effect – so that there’s an extra layer to our reading experience. With ellipses denoting missed conversation and whole sections of blank page to suggest the passing of time or indeed the journey to another time/space our reading of the book is necessarily more active. There’s certainly lots there for some good discussions with Shadowers about the author’s style and how such devices affect our reading of both characters and the plot in general. Plus the punctuation elk has to be one of the most endearing things I’ve seen in a book all year!