Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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. (From Goodreads)

What I liked the most about this book is although it focuses on World War II, it’s from a different perspective than what most readers are used to when reading something from this particular era in history. I think that although learning and reading about the Holocaust is important, let’s not forget other tragic incidents that also happened during this time frame as those victims should not be forgotten as well. Personally, I have not found many fictional accounts concerning this time frame (and geared towards younger readers) and I am hoping Between Shades of Gray will be the one that will open the doors to a lot of readers on this particular subject. For one thing, it’s good to know and good to let others be aware of this moment in history. Also, it’s good because it sets the stage for other writers to write about this subject.

This book has the most beautiful writing I have ever read so far. It’s beautiful, yet at the same time, it’s sad and the sense of loneliness, isolation, and helplessness is felt all throughout the book. It certainly does feel as if Lina and all the rest of the prisoners have indeed been forgotten by the world – considering they’re placed in a camp in literally what looks to be in the middle of nowhere. What’s ironic is they’re labeled as thieves and prostitutes, and some of the prisoners have actually become that way as a means of survival. Lina and her mother are major beacons of hope throughout the story and it’s through their unbelievable strength that they attempt to survive through this ordeal.

What I also liked about the book is the several flashbacks Lina has, to contrast between how she lived before she gets taken and arrested. They almost seem trivial compared to what she goes through in the camp. When Lina finds love in the camp, it’s what propels her to survive through this moment in her life. I thought Lina’s relationship with Andrius was the main reason why she kept hanging on. Although she had plenty of courage to show, she needed something else to cling on so she won’t lose hope.

It’s a bleak story, and gets worse later as the book progresses. The writing in this novel is excellent and makes the reader feel what Lina feels, the detail in the setting and atmosphere is well done and also adds to the feeling of the book. It’s not until literally, the last few pages of the book where Lina’s outcome is revealed, and leaves the reader with the feeling of hope, however with a melancholy feeling to it as well.

One of the best books I’ve read so far this year, I greatly recommend reading this. The writing is beautiful, and the story although tragic, focuses on Lina’s strength to survive and shows how courageous and hopeful one can be while enduring awful horrible events such as the one Lina went through herself.It’s definitely not a subject for everyone to read, however it’s not one to forget either.

I give it a 10 out of 10

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