Ruta Sepetys's exquisite new novel about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Soviet torpedoes sank the ship in the winter of 1945 while it was carrying more than 10,000 refugees. 9,400 of those people died in the icy Baltic Sea. This tragedy is largely forgotten in the midst of all the losses of WWII. Sepetys brings the sinking out of the forgotten past through the eyes of four characters with different political and personal points of view.
Joana is a Lithuanian nurse traveling with a group of refugees across Poland in the hopes of evacuating before the Soviet invasion. Joana becomes a natural leader, and because of her medical experience, the others look to her.
Most of the refugees are German because no one else will be allowed on the evacuation ships, but one of the people traveling with the group is a Polish teenager named Emilia. The other hide her because she is pregnant, alone, and traumatized. She can only communicate with one other person because she doesn't speak German.
Florian is a former Nazi with a dangerous secret cargo. He saved Emilia, and now she clings to him as a hero, but he is only concerned with carrying out his own mission.
Alfred is bottom rung Nazi stationed on the Wilhelm Gustloff with delusions about his own importance.
This book broke my heart. Sepetys is a master of getting her readers emotionally invested in her characters and thus in events largely forgotten by history. I highly recommend this story of sacrifice and heartbreak. Grades 8 and up.