Book: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Publication Date: March 22, 2011 by Philomel
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
How I got it: Picked it up at Barnes and Noble on a whim because the cover captivated me
Summary (from Amazon): 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.
Review: I started this book on a lazy Saturday afternoon, think I’d read for a little bit before starting dinner. I ended up not moving from the couch until I turned the last page, tears streaming down my face. It was a gripping, heart-wrenching, and completely beautiful book.
I’ll admit that I initially picked up this book at B&N because I thought for sure it was a book that focused on the Holocaust (and I’m sure you’ve realized by now that I’m a sucker for Holocaust stories). It turned out that it wasn’t a Holocaust book, rather it was the story of a girl displaced for her home in Lithuania by the Russians. The history nerd in me was rather horrified that I didn’t know enough about this incident, but this book was a great gateway into learning.
If you’re familiar with any Holocaust fiction, this is very much in the same vein and as a result it’s an incredibly powerful story. You’ll fall in love with the character of Lina from the very first pages, after all she’s just a normal girl in an extremely abnormal situation. She uses her passion for her art to try and remain connected to her family and the outside world, which it’s a risk as she could be killed if her art work is found but Lina adamantly refuses to give up her art. I love watching her commit this simple act of a quiet rebellion every time she places pen to paper, it shows that not all rebellions have to be lot or direct.
Once Lina learns exactly what is happening to her family, you see her filled with a fierce determination to survive and to help everyone around her do the same. Even though she is by far one of the youngest in her group, it’s obvious that Lina is more aware than the adults around her. And as her story unfolds you’ll find yourself hoping with every fiber of your being that she will survive this torture and be allowed to return to her home in Lithuania.
The story is also peppered with other memorable characters, all who contribute to the moving tapestry that is the “work relocation” program that so many Lithuanians faced. Her brother, who is so young and innocent that you can’t help but feel encouraged; Andrius, the handsome, yet infuriating 17 year old boy that Lina meets on the train; the bald man, who from the beginning is sure that they will all die and repeats this loudly and often; Lina’s mother, the picture of a calm and strong women, someone whom Lina aspires to be like.
If you enjoy historical fiction or, like me, consider The Diary of Anne Frank to be one of the most moving books you’ve read, this is a must read to be added to your list.