Monday, July 10, 2017

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Image result for between shades of grayStar Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Content Rating: HIGH

Back Cover:
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.”

My thoughts:
If you read my previous review of Ruta Sepetys’ latest book, Salt to the Sea, you will know how much I enjoy reading this author. It’s interesting for me to say I enjoyed reading about such tragic stories, but I enjoyed them in the sense that I am glad that I finally learned about these events. I also said this in my previous review, but the way that the American system teaches children about WWII always focuses on Hitler’s impact on the Jewish people in Europe. While these stories are important, through Sepetys’ books, I have learned about whole people groups that I did not know suffered through such tragedies.

The content rating is HIGH because of the subject matter and the explicit way in which death is described. There are also more mature themes discussed at certain times throughout the narrative.

What I liked:

  • The Plot - Like I said previously, I honestly did not know much about how Stalin displaced most of the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) and parts of other countries in Europe (like Finland). Much of WWII material focuses on Hitler. Sepetys explains why most of these stories remain untold at the end of the book.
  • The Realism - As I was reading, I didn’t get the sense that Sepetys sugar-coated anything that happened to characters. She was writing from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old girl (Lina), and her reactions were appropriate. Sepetys did an excellent job of demonstrating that yes, these children were forced to endure tragedies that made them act older than they were, but that they were still just children.
  • The Writing - Even if you just read the first 20 pages of this novel, you will see Sepetys’ passion for these people. The author’s note and acknowledgement section at the end of the book explain Sepetys’ intense research for this book (she even went so far as to be locked in an old Soviet prison). She wants these untold stories to finally be revealed, and she chose an amazing way to reveal them.
  • The Pace - The events that happened in the novel happened at a very fast pace. Sometimes whole months would go by without me realizing it. There are no cliff hangers at the end of chapters to keep the reader interested. I read this whole book in almost 6 hours (between helping customers while I was at work) and I never once wanted to stop reading to take a break. 
What I didn't like:
  • The Ending - I loved the actual plot ending (if that makes any sense). Everything that happened in the ending was perfect. However, I felt as though Sepetys left me hanging at the end. There was no indication of how Lina and the rest of the people at the labor camp were freed. I personally would have liked to see how and why they were finally released.

What others are saying:

"A superlative first novel, A hefty emotional punch." - The New York Times Book Review

"Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both." - The Washington Post

"Beautiful... a superb though grueling novel." - The Wall Street Journal

"An eye-opening reimagination of a very real tragedy written with grace and heart." - Los Angeles Times

"An engrossing and poignant story of the fortitude of the human spirit in a dark time in Lithuanian history." - Associated Press

"Brave Lina is a heroine young and old readers can believe in." - Entertainment Weekly

Reviewed by Lydia Jones

Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble

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