Monday, July 18, 2011

Read Love Reviews: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Pub. Date: March 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Format: Hardcover, 344pp
Age Range: Young Adult
ISBN-13: 9780399254123

Synopsis From
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.

My review:

Right now in YA Fiction, dystopia is all the rage.  Stories that you can't bear to watch, but from which you just can’t look away.  Sometimes, though, in order to inhabit a horrific landscape where individual freedom is at risk or strangled, hatred and brutality are all-too present, and survival seems against all odds, you need not use your imagination. You'll find that these places exist in our reality, in the not-so-distant past (or even in the present).  And sometimes the truth is more disturbing than any nightmare you could ever dream.
"He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot.  We were about to become cigarettes."
By the time I read these final sentences of the opening chapter, Between Shades of Gray had transported me to another place and time:  Lithuania, June 14, 1941 -- the day that Lina's real-life terror begins.

Between Shades of Gray is a lean book, with direct prose, short chapters, and quick pacing.  Straight from the start, the reader is carried along at a breakneck pace, and you find yourself gripping tightly to Lina in the midst of the chaos and confusion.  This is not the kind of book you can take lightly.  It is not to be read at your leisure.  If you like to read multiple things at the same time, alternating between them, you'll find that you can't do that here.  The subject matter is engrossing and the story will demand your complete attention. More than that, it will demand your entire being.

It's a story that must be told, by the protagonist and her author.  Some subjects and experiences are painfully difficult to talk about.  But art can facilitate both the expression and sharing of strong emotions.  Lina's drawing allows her catharsis:  Just as she washes away accumulated dirt and grime in the bathhouse, Lina sketches to move the horrific scenes from her mind to paper.  In so doing, she cleanses her spirit of the darkness in the world that threatens to break her spirit and body.  Her drawings speak the words Lina cannot express.  And they will speak for her, telling a story that she will carry in silence for the rest of her life. They document what happened to her and others like her.   They will expose the truth that man is capable of great evil.

Yet, while the art of both author and protagonist uncovers an ugly truth, beauty is revealed.  Lina learns that even in the most smothering darkness, there is always light.  It may be hiding where we least expect to find it. And sometimes, when we cannot find it in our surroundings, we need to look for in ourselves.  We need to hold on to that light -- happy memories, hope, dreams, goodness, kindness, generosity, and most importantly, love.  When love and light are present, the human spirit will endure.

Between Shades of Gray is a story that should not only be read, it should be shared -- passed from one to another like Lina's handkerchief.

So none may forget.


  1. This is a really lovely review. Thanks for sharing!

  2. @MarlaThank you! It was a terrific book!

  3. This is one of my favourite books ever! Isn't it just amazing? I love it!
    Brilliant review!

  4. @TheBookAddictedGirl Thanks! It's a great book, for sure. Worthy of multiple reads. A real keeper! I'll be interested to see what else Sepetys might have in her.

  5. I've heard that this one is absolutely powerful. I'm definitely going to have to check it out. Great review! =)

  6. I totally agree with you! This was a fantastic, engrossing read with a story that needs to be told. Great review!

  7. That is the power of books such as these, we find truth and comfort that even in a time as this, there are those that risk everything to help one another. I really enjoyed this book, it was a little slow, but every second was powerful and heart wrenching. You don't hear much of the plight of Stalin's victims, usually its just Hilter's victims and that is a shame. Thank you Ruta for giving the world this book.
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  8. This is a beautifully written tragic historical novel about a period in time that many are not familiar with. The author did extensive research and many of the incidents that happened in the book are based on real accounts from survivors of this horrific period. I was completely engrossed by the story which was both powerful and heartbreaking. I fully expect this book to be able to hold it's own and make it onto recommended reading lists for years to come.