Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray--Ruta Sepetys
March 2011 by Philomel Books
344 pages--Goodreads

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.

Excellent.  Just excellent.  Between Shades of Gray is not an "Oh my gosh; this is so awesome!!!" book  It's a slow burning, sticks with you, love it the more you think about it type of book.  It has a lingering beauty in the tone, subject matter, and writing style.  It is honest about the horrors Lina faces without being depressing.  It is a story of suffering and a story of hope.

The Holocaust features prominently in WWII novels, but I had never heard of these Soviet prison camps and the deported Baltic citizens.  Seriously, how do people not know about this?  I guess it shows the emptiness of our "never again" attitude toward the Holocaust and genocides in general.  I would love to use this book in connection with a unit on Anne Frank (too bad I'm not teaching 8th grade this year) and then connect it to other, more modern genocides.

Sepetys is very honest in her portrayal of the characters; they are not demons and martyrs, but flawed people just trying to survive their very harsh circumstances.  They are very real.  In that light, I like Kretzsky's character.  We like to demonize our antagonists, but really no one is just black or white in this book or in real life.  Kretzsky and Lina and everyone else is made of spectrum of goods and bads.  I wish we could have seen more from his character, but this book is Lina's story, not his. 

There is some mature content in the descriptions of the NKVD's brutality.  It is accurate without being gratuitous, and I appreciate that. 

Between Shades of Gray is an excellent, excellent historical fiction.  I will be sure to read it again.  And the cover is just so pretty.  This cover, not the eyelash one.

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