Friday, March 04, 2011

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

"He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot.
We were about to become cigarettes."
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys takes a piece of forgotten history and brings it to life with the story of fifteen-year-old Lina, living in Lithuania in 1941. Lina has always taken her happy, normal, life foregranted. She has a younger brother, a dad who is a university professor, and she enjoys reading and drawing in her spare time. Everything changes when Lina and her family are arrested in the middle of the night and put on a train for Siberia. Separated from her father, she and her family are forced to do harsh labour under cruel conditions and with hardly any food. The only solace Lina has is her art, which she does in secret, creating pictures she hopes will find her father letting him know his family is still alive. As Lina documents what's going on, she can't help but wonder if she will make it through this and if her family's love will be enough to keep them alive.

There have been many incredible young adult books dealing with the Holocaust and what the Jews experienced, but what happened to so many other innocent people under Stalin's regime at the same time is something that has not really been addressed. In Between Shades of Gray Sepetys delves into the murky waters of what humans are capable of, but at the same time offering hope that even in the darkest night something beautiful can bloom. In this case, that something beautiful is Lina herself, but her artwork and the relationship she develops with a young man at the camps.

I don't usually comment on covers unless there is something particularly noteworthy about them, but in this case I think that the simplicity and imagery of the cover of Between Shades of Gray as well as the increasing darkness of the writing are absolutely perfect for the novel. The only flaw I found with the novel is that the ending of the book felt rushed. Granted, there is an epilogue which helps tie up some of the bits and pieces, but it definitely felt like Lina's story was cut off rather abruptly and I wish Sepetys had taken a little more time to wrap things up. 

As a main character, Lina was incredibly written. She is a young girl thrust into unimaginable circumstances, and although she is not without her moments of weakness- in one example she judges a person without knowing their full situation and later realizes she was terribly wrong- she manages to find a power and strength that is far beyond her years. Sepetys takes a situation of unimaginable horror, drawing inspiration from her own family's history, and completely succeeds in her goal "to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during Stalin's cleansing of the Baltic region." Although it is a young adult novel, the book so richly written and the characters so real that it could certainly be enjoyed by adult readers. In Between Shades of Gray Septeys not only tells a forgotten story, but does so with such power that it is unforgettable. 

Release Date: March 22nd, 2011
Pages: 352
: 4.5/5

Source: ARC From Publisher
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