Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

Title: Between Shades of Gray

Author: Ruta Sepetys

SPOILER FREE description (as explained here): Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart

A History of Between Shades of Gray: On March 22, 2011, Between Shades of Gray was published through Philomel Books. It soon received much praise for its coverage of a historical event not very well known. Its honors include Golden Kite Award for Fiction, Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2011), William C. Morris YA Debut Award Nominee (2012), ALA Teens' Top Ten Nominee (2012)Carnegie Medal in Literature NomineeKirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of the Year (2011), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten) (2012).

On the Author, Ruta Sepetys: Growing up in a highly creative family, Ruta had an amazing childhood. She later grew up to go to Hillside College and then later work in the music industry. She majored in international finance and lived in Europe for a few years.  Later moving back to America, Sepetys was inspired by her father's Lithuanian background. Between Shades of Gray is her first novel.


Much like Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, Between Shades of Gray gives recognition to a historical event which is both important and relevant to all societies. However, many of us know the story of Hitler's raid on Jews during World War II. And unlike this widely acknowledged horror inflicted against a large Jewish community, I knew nothing about the horrors that Stalin inflicted on the people of Lithuania and other countries he overtook. World War doesn't have only one villain. As Sepetys states, "... we're dealing with two devils who both want to rule hell" (168). 

At the beginning of this story I found it hard to sympathize with Lina. There isn't much description before the plot takes off, yet as the difficulties increase and more horrible acts inflict, our human hearts ache for her and the other characters.

I have to commend Sepetys on her variety of characters. There is no one opinion on death or how to die. We have the bald man who would rather die with dignity and at his own hand than give the NKVD the satisfaction; we have Lina and her family who would do anything to stay together, but aren't desperate enough to cave into the NKVD's request for a spy; and we have Andrius's mother who is willing to become a prostitute in order to ensure her son's safety.

This book became very hard to read at times. The images are often too difficult to imagine. Despite its brutal and realistic nature, Between Shades of Gray still had plenty of hope. Lina's hope and humanity remains a constant reminder to the reader of the light at the end of the tunnel.

It teaches us not to forget any chapter of history, no matter how dark.

Who would I recommend it to?
Boys and girls, ages thirteen and older. To anyone interested in history, especially World War II.

Favorite quote:
"How did I get here? How did I end up in the arms of a boy I barely knew, but knew I didn't want to lose? I wondered what I would've thought of Andrius in Lithuania. Would I have liked him? Would he have liked me?" 

Have you read Between Shades of Gray? A fan of the book?  Leave a comment below!

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