Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books/Penguin Young Readers Group
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 Crowns
Description from book:
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost. Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they 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, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive? Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit.
Between Shades of Gray tells an important story that most of us would not be familiar with-Stalin's ethnic cleansing of Lithuania and other Baltic States. Thousands of people died during this time and the communist government hushed it up. For decades afterward, survivors couldn't even talk about their experiences for fear of being arrested but now author Ruta Sepetys, herself of Lithuanian descent, brings this very real tragedy to light in this fictional but moving tale.
The hardships that Lina and her family face are terrible but even in the midst of all their suffering there are moments of beauty and inspiring courage. Lina is a strong character with a compelling voice-she becomes a rock for her mother and brother even when she has her own doubts. She is determined to find a way for them to survive the labor camp and to be reunited with their father.
The descriptions of the capture and travel to the labor camps by cattle train are horrifying to read about as are their experiences of life once they arrive. The use of flashbacks to illustrate the way things were compared to Lina's present life adds emotional punch and helps us understand her and her family better. Lina's mother and brother are admirable for their ability to love and cope and hold fast to their beliefs despite the temptation to give in to the demands of their NKVD captors. While we only get to read about Lina's father Kostas in flashbacks, it is clear that she has also learned to be brave from him as well.
There are a lot of memorable side characters in this book too, some of whom are never even named but given descriptions like "the man who winds his watch" but they have an important part to play. One of my favorite characters is Andrias Arvydas the young Lithuanian man who befriends Lina and her family and encourages them when things are bad. Andrias makes Lina question some of her unfounded beliefs and prejudices as well. Like the title suggests, there are shades of gray to people and circumstances, a lesson Lina learns over the course of the book. Some of the characters on the surface seem to have nothing positive about them but there is goodness hidden in their hearts while others are capable of great cruelty-sometimes survival means making hard decisions.
Between Shades of Gray is an unforgettable novel that leaves readers with the message that just when things seem impossibly bleak, there is hope.
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