August 11, 2021 7:34 AM EDT

While many young-adult works fall under the labels of contemporary or dystopian literature, 2016’s Salt to the Sea looks to history to tell a gripping coming-of-age story. Set in what was then East Prussia as World War II comes to an end, the novel follows Joana, Emilia and Florian as they fight to stay together and survive. The teenagers are desperate to reach western Germany and board a refugee ship that promises to take them away from their blighted, crumbling homeland. Hundreds of thousands of others are on the same path, and along the way the three meet new friends, face old enemies and wrestle with the stark desperation of war. The daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, Ruta Sepetys has said in interviews that she wanted to give a human story to refugees (the character Joana is also a Lithuanian refugee) and to highlight her own ancestors’ journey through that dark period in history. Salt to the Sea has become an esteemed international best seller and recipient of multiple awards, including the Carnegie Medal. —Peter Allen Clark

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