Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Published March 22nd 2011 by Philomel Books
Goodreads Summary: 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.
Review: Wow… I just finished this book and immediately felt moved to write a review. Something I haven’t felt in a very long time. It was such a powerful read. I’ve read numerous World War II books and Holocaust books but I’ve never read anything about Stalin’s reign of terror over the Baltic people. I can’t even possibly imagine what it must have been like to have been ripped from your home and transported to Siberia. They were forced to live off of bread rations and whatever they could scavenge from the Soviets trash. They had live tightly packed into huts built of sticks and mud while their fellow prisoners were suffering from everything from dysentery to scurvy. I’m going to have to remember that the next time I complain about Minnesota’s cold winters and realize just how much worse things could be. I think this book will really open up people to learn more about what the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonians went through during this tragic time.
The main character, Lina, was a little off putting to me at first because she seemed overly naive and selfish. However, she gradually grew on me as she learned from her fellow people just what it was to survive and help each other out. I was totally pulling for her and Andrius to have some sort of happy ending. They both suffered so much throughout the course of the novel.
One thing I thought that was really interesting was that Lina’s cousin and best friend, Joana, was also from Lithuania but her family escaped to Germany. I had already read the authors latest book, Salt to the Sea, and remembered that one of the main characters in that book is named Joana and she was from Lithuania…. I’m thinking they must be the same person. I really like that Sepetys decided to tie these two books together like that.
I think it’s also really important that readers of this book read the author’s note. One of my favorite quotes was actually from this section.
“They chose hope over hate and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light.”
I don’t want to say I enjoyed this book for obvious reasons, but I will say that it really spoke to me taught me some valuable things. I think this is a really important book that people of any age should read.