Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Hardcover, 338 pages

Released: March 22, 2011

Publisher: Philomel Books

ISBN13: 9780399254123

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 Rating: 4.5 / 5

My Thoughts:
This is the heroic tale of Lina, her younger brother Jonas and mother Elena whose life was changed one night when he NKVD came to take them away. With simple writing, Ruta balances the atrocities with compassion and humanity. Through flashbacks, we see the stark contrast of what life was like at home, the time that her biggest worries where boys and admission to art school. The journey is captured by Lina through art and letters, there is always the assumption that this was only temporary and they would be reunited with their father and back home. Without having something like faith to hold onto, what was left? With no material objects, living conditions deplorable, life became all about survival and keeping that hope alive. The biggest irony is that they had to become the thieves and prostitutes that they were originally, falsely accused of being, out of sheer necessity.

Ruta Sepetys has written about a horrific, historical time that is hardly talked about. The beauty in the book is the hope, strength and compassion shines that through, making the depressing subject that much more bearable to hear. We have all been taught about the evils of Hitler, but he was not the only one. Having my maternal grandparents live through something similar (they were Latvian and Estonian) I was familiar with this tragic past. Be ready to have your eyes opened, this took place only 70 years ago!


  1. This sounds like a great book. It's all too easy to try to distance ourselves from that time as it gets further from us but it still resonates in people today. Great review!

  2. Thanks for the review. I've really been looking forward to this one. I'm glad it's been getting a lot of postitive feedback :)

    I just posted Debut Author Incites and am featuring Ruta this week, so stop by if you want to see her answers ^-^