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. 


  1. This is on my TR list and I hope to get to it this summer. Your review expresses exactly how I feel about books on the topic of genocide and repression: want to, don't want to, but MUST.

  2. The story and writing are amazing and Between Shades of Gray sheds light on a portion in history that little is known about.
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