Authors We Love: Ruta Sepetys

Ruts Sepetys is one of the most well known young adult historical fiction authors ever! With historical fiction being my favorite genre, I consider myself proud to say that Ruta Sepetys is my favorite author of all time. I have read all of the books she has written and I consider every single one of them to be some of my favorite books. 

Unlike many historical fiction authors, she doesn’t exclusively write about one event in history. With a setting like New Orleans, Barcelona, and Siberia, Sepetys takes us into a plethora of historical events, with different time periods, people, and settings. 

One specific thing I love about historical fiction is you learn something along the way, and all of Ruta Sepetys writes about overlooked events in history. These aren’t things you learn from your history textbook, they’re much more than that. Her books take you on a journey through events like the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that took 10 times the lives the Titanic did, and is the biggest maritime disaster of all time. But for some unknown reason, nobody talks about it, except for Sepetys.

Not only does she shed these huge historical events to light, but she does also these events justice. Although what she writes is fiction, the historical events they’re based on are all too real. Sepetys does an amazing job of research. In her most recent novel, The Fountains of Silence, the back of the book offered more details about her writing and research process, as well as pages of her notes. Sepetys do years and years of research for just one novel, and by reading the books you can tell how much effort was put into them. 

As for her World War Il novels, she has interviewed countless figures, both strangers and family, that were involved in those events, and based some of her books off of real events her family has gone through. 

Another part that I really love about her books is her writing style. With short and quick chapters, the writing allows you to be constantly engaged. The constant point of view switches keep you on your toes and makes every single one of her books a page-turner.

Between Shades of Gray (2011): Not your everyday World War 2 novel, Between Shades of Gray shows the dark side of Polish deportation and labor camps. With a knowledgeable protagonist and a family trying not to fall apart in the face of war, this brutal novel is a must-read. My Rating: 9/10

Out of the Easy (2013): Out of the Easy is a novel describing the life of the daughter of a prostitute longing to be free and live her own life outside of the bustling city of New Orleans. When a customer at her bookstore is found dead, she finally finds the escape she’s been looking for. My Rating: 7/10

Salt to the Sea (2016): The biggest maritime disaster, and the long path refugees are forced to take to flee Germany, this story tells the tale no one wishes to tell about World War 2.  In this novel, everyone has a secret to tell, and with them come guaranteed tears. My Rating: 10/10

The Fountains of Silence (2019): the Fountains of Silence tells the unknown story of how the Spanish people recovered after their own civil war. Told through the eyes of a photographer tourist from Texas, and a hotel employee who works hard for every penny she earns. This novel shows the trials and tribulations of most families during the reconstruction, but the star of this novel is truly the romance. Greatest of all, you get to learn about what’s really happening with the Spanish government behind closed doors. My Rating: 9/10

-Asli B. 

The works of Ruta Sepetys are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of my favorite books ever written. It was published in 2006, by John Boyne, and is set during World War II, at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland. It is narrated by Bruno, the 9-year-old son of a Nazi Commandant. Bruno’s innocent perspective makes the novel absolutely gut-wrenching, as he has no idea what exactly is happening beyond the fence surrounding Auschwitz.

Bruno’s father has a high station in the Nazi hierarchy, and he is on very close terms with Fuhrer Hitler. In fact, Hitler has Bruno’s father move out of Berlin and to Poland so he can oversee tings at Auschwitz, much to Bruno’s dismay. The new house at Auschwitz is old and gloomy, not at all like his previous home in Berlin. With nothing to do except explore, Bruno makes a number of startling discoveries that, in turn, lead to a massive turn of events.

Overall, this book is a roller-coaster of emotions. Readers will laugh at Bruno’s adorable perceptions of things that we understand with ease, cry at the mistakes he makes because he doesn’t know any better. John Boyne expertly wraps the reader up in the plot, writing complex, dynamic characters that the reader can sympathize with. This book is just an amazing read, and if you’re looking for a novel that will enrich and educate as well as entertain you, your search has met its end.

-Arushi S. 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

Night by Elie Wiesel

Night by Elie Wiesel is a terrifying story of the Holocaust during World War 2. Elie was born in Sighet, Transylvania. He lived a normal age until the day that he and his family were taken to a concentration camp formerly called Auschwitz. There he is separated from his mother and sisters. He is told to lie about his age and job in order to survive.

After he tells a guard about his age, he is led away with his father. Some days after, they are taken to Buna, a work camp. They work long hours and are very malnourished. Due to the harsh conditions, the Jews must look after one another. This behavior doesn’t last long, and soon all the Jews care about is that they survive. This pushes many of them to commit horrific crimes for extra rations of bread. They quickly lose faith in God and no longer pray. This brings on a worse despair. After some months of labor, the prisoners are soon to be liberated by the Russians. Because of this, the Germans decide to move the prisoners. They are forced to march through a snowstorm to another concentration camp called Gleiwitz. Once at Gleiwitz, they are crammed into cattle cars. All 100 prisoners that hadn’t died were tightly packed against one another. Most cannot take anymore pain and die on the train. Once the train stops at Buchenwald, only 12 prisoners get off of the train. Soon after arriving, Elie’s father dies of dysentery on April 11, 1945. After experiencing so much, this breaks Elie and he is transformed into only a skeleton of a man.

-E. Vargas

Night by Elie Wiesel is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Prisoner B-3087 is a true story of Jack Gruener. Alan Gratz was the person who made Gruener’s story into a novel. The novel tells a tale of Yanek, a boy who was put in a concentration camp.

I choose this book because I needed something to read. When I found it I saw that it was about the Holocaust. I thought that it would be very interesting and it was.

I haven’t read every Holocaust story but this one was very deep. The way Gratz wrote this was very in depth. That is what I think that more of these stories need. They need a more detailed story.

It really made you feel like you where there. Right next to Yanek in the concentration camp. I also learned many news things about the Nazis. Like how they hired convicted criminals to be Kapos in the camps. At the start of the book Yanek was a boy about 10. He was just a innocent boy. Then when the Nazis came he was coming on 11 or 12 maybe. Then when they took him he was going on 14.

The important thing about 13 is that it means its time for your barmitzfah. Before they took him and his uncle had his barmitzfah. Now they couldn’t have had it in there house or else they would’ve been shot. What they did was they had it in the basement.

This was one of my favorite parts of the book because usually Jewish people have a huge celebration for there barmitzfah. I mean my friend rented out half of the Los Angeles stadium for his barmitzfah. Yanke’s family could’ve had a big celebration for his barmitzfah. The only down side is that they would’ve been shot dead on spot.

Another thing that shocked me was the cruelty of the Nazis. There was one point of the book where they would make prisoners move huge rocks for no real reason. They just wanted to see the Jews suffer. In the novel you could see how Yanek changed over time. In the beginning of the novel he was a innocent little boy. At the end of the novel he was a grown man who didn’t fear death.

I thought this book was great and I wouldn’t mind reading it again.

-Max U.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

We’ve all heard various accounts of how life was like in the Nazi concentration camps; how millions perished in the gas chambers and how fear pulsed through all of the prisoners’ veins day and night. However, rarely do we hear about how everyday life was like for a prisoner in a concentration camp. Sometimes, it’s the smaller things, the things that seem to be less significant, that are really the most horrible. I’m not at all implying that the gas chambers weren’t horrible, they were unequivocally inhumane, but some of the things that Viktor Frankl describes in this book seem just as bad, and, in some cases, even worse. 

Viktor Frankl, a Viennese man, was taken captive initially to a concentration camp in Auschwitz. As a liberated victim, and through his knowledge and understanding of human psychiatry, he has been able to give a very accurate and detailed account of his time and experiences as a prisoner. 

He describes three stages of a prisoners’ mental state: shock, apathy, and coping with depersonalization after liberation (if they were lucky). As he explains each stage in detail, he gives anecdotes, which really helped me to gain a clear understanding of the psychiatry behind it all. 

What really struck me by surprise as I was reading this book was how utterly unjust it was for those who were held captive in the concentration camps. Of course, I knew prior to reading this that the prisoners were treated unfairly, but I suppose I never fully comprehended the extent to which it went. 

At the beginning of the book, Frankl recounts the first time he’d entered the camp. He recalls an SS guard standing by the gate who examined each prisoner carefully, deciding whether they’d be capable of the strenuous labor they’d be subject to if they were admitted to the camp. Anyone who appeared weak in any way was immediately sent to the gas chambers. This need to be “fit” plagued the prisoners throughout their time at camp as, at any time, if someone were to sustain an injury or grow ill, they’d be deemed “incapable” and were promptly sent to the chambers. This was but the first of many horrors that Frankl would encounter at the camp. 

Additionally, Frankl discusses logatherapy, a form of psychiatry, which can loosely be defined as “finding a will to meaning”. He describes it in the context of a concentration camp: along with a lot of luck, the one thing that kept Frankl alive at Auschwitz was his life’s work pertaining to psychiatry. 

I thought that this book was a very fascinating read. I definitely learned a lot more about how life was like in concentration camps, and the section on logatherapy also intrigued me–some of the concepts he discussed really made me think hard. This is a very powerful and inspiring book–Viktor Frankl is an extremely strong and willful individual. 

-Elina T. 

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

boyinthestripedpajamas_johnboyneTo Bruno, Out-With was not a good place. That was where his family moved, away from their perfect life in Berlin. It was all because of Father. Father soon got a pressed uniform and the title of Commandant, which Bruno’s grandmother despised. And then the Fury came to visit, and right after, they moved from Berlin to Out-With. Gretel, Bruno’s older sister who was a “Hopeless Case,” later said it wasn’t pronounced “Out-With” and the man people saluted wasn’t called the “Fury,” but Bruno knew he was correct nonetheless.

Bruno hated his new life at Out-With, being removed from his friends and confined to the general vicinity of the house. He had no friends here, since Gretel was too focused on her dolls and Lieutenant Kotler to pay Bruno any mind. Plus, the house was no longer a five-story structure like the house in Berlin had been. And soon, Mother and Father made Gretel and Bruno attend lessons under Herr Liszt, but they had to learn history, not art and poetry like Bruno wanted.

Bruno, however, began to learn other secrets about his new life, about Maria the maid, Pavel the server, about the people on the other side of the fence that he could see from his bedroom window. The people who all wore the same striped pajamas every day and who were never invited into his house, though the soldiers were somehow invited to the other side of the fence.

This novel was a poignant tale of the Holocaust. Told from the perspective of a naive nine-year-old, the whole situation was simplified to the greatest degree, which amplified the story in my opinion. This book has been on my “to-read” list for years now, and I am fortunate I finally got a chance to read it. In reality, it is a simple read, but the themes presented deal with the moral issues of the Holocaust and thus make this novel suitable to at least a middle school audience. That being said, as a junior in high school, I still found this book touching and would definitely recommend it.

– Leila S., 11th grade

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

bookthief_markuszusakThe Book Thief is a truly amazing story by Markus Zusak about a German girl named Liesel Meminger who lived in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Liesel travels to Himmel Street in Molching to meet her new family, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, and her will-be best and reliable friend, Rudy Steiner. Liesel also came with a book, A Grave Digger’s Handbook, and Hans decides to teach her how to read and write. After her first book stealing, she feels encouraged to steal more books.

One thing I like about this book is that it is narrated not by person, but by Death. It shows how Death thinks and his thoughts of collecting souls after a person dies. Death talks about his job and all of the colors he sees while picking up souls. He also mentions that he is interested by Liesel. I think that Death also begins to feel remorseful about collecting so many souls during World War II.

What I also like about this book is that the author tells this story in a straight-forward style. I believe it offers true thoughts of the Führer, aka Hitler, from those who didn’t really support him. This also shows the life of a Jew trying to stay alive and hide from the soldiers. There are some sad parts but there are heart-warming moments as well. I recommend this book for 12 years and older. If you choose to read this terrific book, I hope you will greatly enjoy it.

-Samantha S.

The Book Thief is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library, Overdrive, and Axis360.