I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Also by this author: Salt to the Sea
Published by Penguin on 2011-03-22
Genres: Europe, Historical, Holocaust, Prejudice & Racism, Social Issues, Young Adult
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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.
Human history contains a great number of tragedies. Often, these are given a footnote, if that in the high school history textbook. While I could go on and on and on about how horrible history textbooks are, I won’t. Instead I will say to you, read Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. I mean, how often do you hear about Columbus’s slaughter of the Arawak indigenous peoples. How often do you read about the Armenian genocide? Or what about the Albigensian Crusade? Go look that one up. As humans, we are cruel to each other. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys takes on what was essentially a paragraph in my history class notes and turns it a harrowing novel.
Between Shades of Gray examines what life was like on a micro scale for someone who had been deported to Siberia for being anti-Soviet, or, enemies of the people. Lina, 15 years old, is a Lithuanian girl who loves art, flirts with boys and has a close relationship with her family. She’s your typical teenage girl, with a dose of sass, living in the early 1940s. Unfortunately the 1940s are a time of turmoil and change. You have Hitler going nuts changing the map as he annexes countries. Stalin is rising to huge amounts of power taking over Eastern Europe. Caught in the cross hairs of these two powerful men are countries like Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, etc. In the dead of night, the NKVD show up at Lina’s home and deport her family to Siberia for unpatriotic activities. Lina, a 15 year old girl is considered a political criminal, yet she has done nothing to merit that. As her father is a university provost and middle-class, this is considered a crime against the people, a crime the whole family commits merely by their social standing. FRIENDS, it is heart wrenching to see this whole family’s lives ripped apart.
The writing in Between Shades of Gray is gorgeous. It’s never overwrought. It’s never cheaply sentimental. Pot shots aren’t taken for the sense of sparking tears from the reader. To me, I felt the writing was an honest portrayal of what people really went through. There was nothing hokey about it. It never felt like a school lesson either. In fact, because the writing is not filled with unnecessary, overly descriptive words, I felt that it was easier to connect with Lina. We get these brief images or rather, flashbacks, of Lina’s previous life interwoven with the current narrative of events. When you see how happy Lina’s life was, and just compare it with life on the klokholz, the collective farm, it’s enough to break your heart.
And I know people reading this book will appreciate their own circumstances, which is great. But I think you should also make it not about you. Don’t turn the book into a selfish experience. Instead think about real people, and what they actually went through. Think about THEIR pain. Think about what people are still going through today in Darfur. Think about something besides yourself.
The note I want to end on in this review of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is that history is so important to learn about. We keep making mistakes over and over and over. I mean, just look at what goes on in the news. I think the more we try to uncover the past, terrible though it may be, the more we try to not whitewash these incidents, the more we are able to move forward, and hopefully change for the better.