Skip to content

Books on the Blog: Overcoming Hardships and Loss

By Lynne R. Dorfman

TIn Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys four teen’s lives converge in hopes of escape as Russians advancing through East Prussia during 1945. The story brings to life the little known story of the sinking of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff by Russian torpedoes. The historical fiction novel is told in alternating voices of the Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred (the only one who is unlikable as a self-delusional Hitler worshipper and sympathizer). Thrown together, the main characters struggle to survive, hardly trusting one another to even use their real names. Each has secrets that haunt anyone who has lived through war, flight, and deprivation. As the group escapes the brutalities of the Red Army, ultimately some of them will perish.

They gain passage on the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff. Of the estimated 10, 500 people on board, more than 9,000 perished in the icy sea. Florina, Joana, and Emilia work to save as many lives as possible. Also interwoven into the story is the disappearance of The Amber Room, a piece of artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II that has never been recovered. Themes for this novel include innocence and trust and the idea that the secrets we carry can define who we are or inspire us to change for the better. A masterpiece by Sepetys that makes reading YA historical fiction easy! Recommended for grades 9 – 12.

When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin is a story of hardship and loss set in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Ben Coffin, the narrator, has been bounced around the foster care system. When he finally finds a loving mom and happy home, they are yanked away quite suddenly by his foster mom’s unexpected death. Ben goes to live with his best friend Halley. She and his dog Flip are his best friends. Halley is undergoing chemo for cancer and remains optimistic, but eventually, Ben loses her, too. Halley’s parents are grateful to keep Ben as their own. This story, although quite sad at times and true-to-life, always manages to be uplifting and even funny in parts. Although Ben learns that good things don’t tend to last, he also is able to dig deep to find faith and trust in other people, the world, and even himself. This book is honest, relatable, quirky, and lovely. I couldn’t put it down! Middle schoolers will love it!

Lynne Dorfman is a co-director of the PA Writing & Literature Project. She is co-author of A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Students with Formative Assessment, K-6, available this September at Stenhouse Publishers. Lynne serves KSRA as an editor for PAReads and is an adjunct professor at Arcadia University. She attributes all her successes as a presenter and as a writer of professional books to her participation in PAWLP’s invitational summer writing institute and all her coursework at West Chester University through the PA Writing & Literature Project. It changed her teaching life and enriched her personal life with wonderful friends.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. KaylieA #

    I really like this post! I love coming across books that may have never crossed my path otherwise. I think it’s very important to cover difficult topics like this and beneficial for the overall classroom community in the long run. I like how one book takes a historical spin while the other focuses on teenagers (wow that one sounds sad!). I’d definitely be interested to read them and maybe even incorporate them into my classroom one day! Thanks for the post!


    December 5, 2017
  2. Mackenzie Conway #

    I really enjoyed this post! I remember hearing about these two books when I attended PCTELA a few weeks ago. Both of these books caught my eye because they bring difficult topics to light. One does it in a historic way while the other brings it closer to home. However, both discuss the topic of loss and hardships. I think it is crucial to have books that do this because we don’t always know what our students are going through. I feel as though we should never underestimate how much the right books can speak to and impact our students. Definitely adding these to my wish list!


    November 13, 2017

We'd love to hear what you think! Please comment below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: