Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Source: ARC copy from a fellow blogger
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.
WOW… just wow.
I had to let this sink in for a little while before I could even attempt to write a coherent review. I’ll start out by giving major kudos to the author for writing a YA book about this topic and set in this time period in history. I have never read a book, let alone a YA book, set during Stalin’s rule and I definitely learned a lot.
While there are many underlying themes in this book, two of them stuck with me the most. The first was how much this book will put things into perspective for you. You think you’re having a rough day – maybe your hair won’t go a certain way or someone said something mean about you, or the barista at Starby’s didn’t get your order exactly right (yeah I’ll admit, I’m guilty of all of these). Then you read Between Shades of Gray and you realize how much worse it could be. You could have been kidnapped straight from your home with only the clothes on your back and a few possessions. You could be living in a train car w/no fresh air, food, or water. You could be using a hole in the floor for the bathroom. Or you might have to bathe in front of leering men, or watch people suffer and die for no reason other than because of what country they were from. I’m not trying to demean anyone’s issues, but for me it really put things into perspective and made me think twice about what really upsets me.
The second theme that stuck with me was the underlying current of hope and love. Even with a storyline that is filled mostly with hate and despair, the author still manages to inject the story with love and hope. You will not find any love triangles or high school drama in this book. You will find a mother’s basic instinct to protect and nurture her children. You will find a love blossom between two people forced into the same terrible position. You will find a woman who must resort to prostitution in order to keep her child alive. Not exactly something most of us think about on a regular basis for sure.
As for the individual characters – amazing. Your heart will literally break for Lina, Elena, Jonas, Andrius, and most every other character in the book. You see how fast Lina and Jonas have to grow up and deal with things far beyond their years. You will loathe the NKVD and how they treated people. You will want to comfort people, heal people, and kick people in the head all at once. It’s amazing the thought process of some of these people back then and the lengths they would go to in order to carry out their plans.
Another aspect that I loved about the book is how Lina’s drawings drew you into the story even more. You could vividly paint a picture in your mind of the conditions they were in and the things they saw. They weren’t pretty or flowery, but raw and intense and true.
I seriously recommend this book to EVERYONE. I sincerely hope Ruta Sepetys writes more books because I will read anything this phenomenal writer produces. Stay tuned for an interview with the author and a giveaway of this amazing book!