Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: book review

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys


My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Age Group: Young Adult

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Philomel Books

Release Date: March 22nd 2011

Synopsis: 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.

Warning: I start to ramble a bit toward the end of this review.

My thoughts: Between Shades of Gray is the story of a Lina, a fifteen year-old girl and her family who had been taken away from their home in Latvia by the Soviets. This is an account of their long, hard journey and fight for survival. Although it is a fictional story Between Shades of Gray is based on the stories of survivors.

This novel tore at my heart and deeply touched me. I am sorry to say that I had no knowledge about this part of history until after I read this book. This disturbs me a bit. Whenever I thought about this time period the Holocaust immediately comes to mind but never this. I am glad that I was able to learn about this very much unknown event from this book.

Ruta Sepetys is able to write about this horrible event in history with absolute clarity. Always picking the right words to tell the story, Sepetys creates a story the perfectly depicts the hardship, fear, and cruelty the Lithuanians had to go through but also shows the hope, faith, and bonds that they had.

What I really loved about this book was the power of some of the smallest events, things, or people-a conversation that Lina had with the bald man who showed who he really was, the girl with the dolly whose presence somehow haunted me, the man who was always winding up his watch, a sad conversation between Kretzsky and Lina, and the Dickens book and the notes that Andrius had written in it for Lina to find, and the time Lina learned the meaning of the beautiful word Krasivaya.

This book isn’t just about Lina and her family. It tells the stories of all the people Lina meets awhile on her journey. Their emotions, pain, and struggles were painful to read about. Sepetys even takes the time to make the reader sympathise for one of the enemies.

I would say that my favorite characters were Kretzsky, Andrius, Elena, and the girl with the dolly, Janina. Kretzsky was a tragic character and after learning more about him I couldn’t bring myself to hate him. He really redeems himself by the end of the book by helping out the Lina and the others and giving them the hope that they were about to lose. Andrius is a boy that creates a strong bond with Lina. They gave each other a lot of hope and even some moments of joy. Elena is the mother of Lina and Jonas. The sacrifices that she made throughout the book were heartbreaking. She cared for nearly everybody she met and loved Lina and Jonas sincerely and deeply. Elena is a truly admirable character. I found Janina to be a absolutely haunting to character. I haven’t stopped thinking about her even after finishing the book. There is just something so memorable about her.

The book ends on a odd but strangely uplifting note. I loved the beauty of it. I rarely ever read the author’s note whenever I finish books but for this one I decided that I should. I am glad I did. It tells the reason Ruta Sepetys decided to write Between Shades of Gray and gives us some more information on the terrible event that this book tells us about.

Between Shades of Gray is a raw, beautiful, and sad book to read. Some parts made tears come to my eyes and other parts made my heart soar. This book really struck a chord with me and I will never forget it.