Friday, May 20, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

“The full extent of Stalin's genocide will never truly be known, but it certainly had no boundaries. Ruta Sepetys stunningly portrays the devastation of Lithuania through the eyes of 15-year-old Lina and the story of her family's deportation to Siberia. The camp scenes not only accurately display the horror of the Great Terror but also show the courage and resilience of those who survived this colossal crime. Consider this the young adult version of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”
-- Bill Cusumano, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI

Between Shades of Gray is one of those books that you really want to read, but you really don't want to read at the same time.  Like Night or The Diary of Anne Frank, you know what you are in for before you even pick up the book.  It's going to be serious.  It's not going to be an easy read, but you know you will be better for having read the story.

Books like this remind us to be grateful for all we have and all the freedoms we enjoy.  Sepetys tells the story of a teenaged girl named Lina who, along with most of her family, is taken from her home and "shipped" by Stalin and the NKVD to Siberia to a work camp.  Her father is not with Lina, her mother, and her brother.  She wants desperately to find him.  She draws some clues on her handkerchief and sends it on with other people in hopes that it will find her father and that then he can find them.  The prisoners are labeled as "thieves and prostitutes" and forced to ride in cattle cars for days to Siberia.  They live in shacks and work their hands to the bone.  They face illness and despair.

It was so hard to read all that the people in this book faced, but it's really important to remember.  Many of us have read Night and know about the Holocaust.  But horror was happening in Russia and the surrounding countries, too.  I think it's great that Sepetys has researched and brought these stories to life for readers.  The writing in this book was great.  Short chapters helped keep the pace quick and move the story along.  I also really liked the way that the author included flashbacks in many chapters.  You could see what life was like for Lina and her family before they were in trouble.

What sticks with you most in this story is, of course, the power of the human spirit to endure.  We see the true strength in people when we read stories like this and remember these parts of our world's history.  I think this book is wonderful and is great for all audiences.  Lina's just a regular girl, but she becomes extraordinary and super-human as she faces horrible wrongs and suffering during her life's journey. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

I love Maureen Johnson.  I first read Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever and adored them both.  Witty, smart girl characters and super-fun supporting cast members also.  I also read her story in Let It Snow.  I finally picked up 13 Little Blue Envelopes.  I knew that the sequel was coming out, so I wanted to read these.

The book is about Ginny Blackstone.  Her crazy aunt, whom she loves, "disappeared" a few years back, and no one really knew where she was until they found out that she had cancer and died abroad.  Since she was so far away and had disappeared anyway, it was sad, but strange to Ginny.  Then one day she gets a letter from her aunt that sends her on a whirlwind trip to Europe.  Her aunt has written her 13 letters, each one including a different task that Ginny must complete before opening the next.  The rules are set out for her, too:  she can only take what will fit in her backpack, she may not use any guide books or write anything down, she cannot bring any extra money, and she cannot use technology - no cell phone, music, email or anything of the sort.

Sounds scary to me!  But Ginny takes her aunt up on the challenge and travels to England to begin her journey.  The book follows Ginny on this trip.

I liked the book a lot.  I did not love it as much as I love the Scarlett books, but it was fun.  I enjoyed getting to travel with Ginny and be in Europe.  It was really fun to see all that she saw.  The characters in the book are fun.  I will say that I didn't really root for Ginny much until closer to the end of the book, but when I did get to the end, I cared about what she had gone through and wanted to know where she ended up next in life.  All in all a fun read.  I will definitely be reading the sequel next and see how the story continues.