I honestly have no idea how to review this book, and that doesn’t happen often with me. Between Shades of Gray is something entirely outside my previous reading experiences. It’s not the subject matter—I’ve read about Soviet labor camps before. It’s not the prose—Sepetys didn’t astound me, though her writing was effective. And it wasn’t the characters—Lina and her mother and brother were nice but not anything new.
Maybe it was the combination of it all, the elements that came together and made this book. It’s just…this book gave me a lot to think about. It’s very intricate, and quite a bit more mature than your typical YA novel.
So the story is about Lina, a Lithuanian girl who is deported and taken to Siberia. She first works at a beet farm, and she stays there for about ten months. There she experiences her first love, has all of her childhood assumptions challenged. After than she’s dragged up to the top of the Arctic Circle, where she watches her friends and family slowly die off in the freezing cold. And when it seems like there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, the book ends.
But while I was disappointed that the book ended there, I think it was most likely a good choice. Lina was doomed to stay in the labor camps for decades longer, and while the struggle was survival, it was also about strength. And once Lina finds that she can maintain her strength in the situation she’s in, I guess the book had come to its natural conclusion. And by leaving things open-ended, Sepetys kept things realistic, as Lina couldn’t just “get out” of her situation by any means.
Lina’s character wasn’t super original or amazing, but the development of her personality was fantastic. We watch her go from a self-centered, naive 15 year old to a world-weary and resilient young woman. I loved watching that growth, as it was so subtle and delicately done.
And going back to the ending (it’s the best part, seriously), there was an epilogue that takes place in 1995, forty years after the main events in Between Shades of Gray. That epilogue was the final touch to this book—a taste of stark realism but also of hope.
Verdict: This is a hard book to talk about, but it’s a beautiful book to read. Between Shades of Gray defies classification, and I’m conflicted about it. There’s no doubt that I liked it, but I can’t explain to you why, nor can I explain what I didn’t like. I just know that I wanted more. More book, more story, more of everything. This book just is. And it’s definitely a recommended read.
Why I Loved It: This book was pretty awesome. It really was. And the author? Yea she is pretty incredible. You can just feel the passion she has for this issue as you read the book. Listening to her talk about the book made me need to read the book. And once you read it, you find the writing is stunning. And the story is beautiful and enough to move you to tears.
I have read many books dealing with the Holocaust and World War II. They all revolved around Germany's conquests and the suffering of the Jews. I had never quite heard about the Lithuanians that suffered under such cruel conditions. I seriously hate that this is not a story more shared with students. It was an atrocity that was overshadowed by the darkness of Hitler.
In this story, Lina is this bright and artistic girl. She has been raised to think for herself, which has become very dangerous in the society around her. One night her father did not come home, and the NKVD came in and took Lina, her mother, and her little brother away. Thousands of others were taken from their home, put on trains, and sold off as laborers. They lived under horrible conditions. Lina and her family, with a lot of work, managed to stay together as they traveled from Lithuania. As innocent people, they are treated as criminals, moved from place to place with no clear explanation.
The story follows Lina throughout the terrors that surround her as her circumstances affect her and her art. Thankfully, in the midst of the horrors, Ms. Sepeptys managed to give her readers glimpses of hope throughout the frozen terrain. It is a truly fantastic example of fine storytelling.
Finally, I must mention the research. She went to Lithuania twice. She talked to survivors. And she went through a simulation of the prison Lithuanians would have went through. It was an incredibly intense process. It is incredibly commendable.
Who Should Read It: I think this a story that everyone should read. It is some fabulous historical fiction.
Oh my, Between Shades of Gray is an absolutely stunning book. It left me so utterly drained. It’s not an easy book to read, but one that’s certainly worthwhile.
Lina’s story broke my heart. She went through so much and Between Shades of Gray kept piling it on. One thing after another. And she was so brave and tried so hard to stick to her convictions, no matter what. It’s hard for me to even imagine, but I’m not sure that I could have done the same thing in her place. And her poor brother! To be forced to grow up like that. And don’t even get me started on her parents. It just hurt so much. But it was so powerful.
At first, the writing style of Between Shades of Gray grated on me. It was very brief, wasn’t overly descriptive. The sentences were very short and to the point. But as the book moved on, I started to think less about how the sentences were constructed and more about what they were saying. And the words were very powerful.
Whenever we learned about this time period in history class, we’d always sort of gloss over Stalin and focus on Hitler, which really goes to prove the overall point of the book. It wasn’t a book meant to make you cry and then be set aside. Lina herself may have not been real, but her story is the true story of thousands of people.
I highly recommend Between Shades of Gray. It’s such a powerful and emotional book, and even if you hate books that make you cry, Between Shades of Gray is a very, very worthwhile read.
Review originally posted on my blog http://hobbitsies.net/2011/03/between-shades-of-gray-by-ruta-sepetys/
When you read books set in the 1940-50's, they are mostly about Hitler in Germany. This one is not. It's about Lithuania, and how it was just as horrible as Germany then.
Between Shades of Gray is about a girl called Lina. Before one day changed her life, she was like any other Lithuanian around. Then. In 1941, one night, Soviets barged in, claiming that they were criminals. Herself and her family, her mother and her brother, were taken and thrown onto a train with many other people, and then is forced to work in a labour camp. This book is about her time in the labour camp, what she suffered there and how far she went to survive. It is so touching and heartbreaking.
I felt heartbroken all through this book, and cried a total of three times. The first time was when Lina was describing herself and those around her after a couple of months at the labour camp. The second time was when (SPOILER ALERT) Lina's mother died (END SPOILER) and the third was at the very end, when I was reading the letter.
I felt angry a lot of times during this book. I felt angry all the times those guards looked the other way as people were starving right in front of them, and also when I found out that the Americans knew about this.
I was so sad at the end. I was like "WHAT?! THAT'S WHERE YOU CHOOSE TO END?" Of course, with the end letter I knew she was all right in the end, but there was nothing on how she finally managed to escape. I am sad now. :(
This is an amazing book. All should read this, but be sure to be supplied with a few tissues if you're one of those people who cry easy.
I have not read that many World War Two books yet, the ones I have are mainly about the Jewish and what Hitler did to them, but I haven't really read that much about Russia and the countries surrounding it. All I really know about Russia in WWII was that the Germans had a battle somewhere, where they got their butts frozen off. Between Shades of Gray is about what happened to the people on the opposing side to the Germans, and how it was equally bad in some ways.
Between Shades of Gray is about Lina, your average Lithuanian. She goes to school, giggles with her cousin about boys, and draws. One night, in the year 1941, she was taken by the Soviets, pressed with the charge of being a thief. Herself and her family, her mother and her brother, and then thrown onto a cramped train with many other people, Andrius included, and then is forced to work in a labour camp. Between Shades of Gray is about her life in the few that follow her imprisonment, and what the measures she took to survive.
This was a heartbreaking book, all the way throughout. I thought that Hitler was the evil one, and he was the person to blame for most of the deaths, but then you read a book like this, and you realize, that the Soviets were awful as well, Stalin. Lina is one of the many people stuck in between the clashing greedy leaders, and is the one who has to pay for it.
I think what broke me in this book was three things. When Lina described her arm to be as thin as her mother's finger and thumb touching, that the Americans knew that the Soviets had these camps and the ending letter. It was so awful to know that some of these people were in these camps for over ten years, it was truly horrifying.
I think that Between Shades of Gray is a great book, because not many books are about what happened to some of the countries surrounding Russia. This was the first of the young adult books that dealt with this problem, and it was solved in an amazing manner.
Fills a Gap in YA Historical Fiction...And Does So WELL
I was a history major at Hanover College, where I took a course on the Soviet Union and wrote my I.S. on some of Solzhenitsyn's works. The World War II time period is among my favorite historical eras, so I was very excited to discover what Between Shades of Gray was about, as I had no idea when I picked it up.
This is a book that has been a long time coming. The atrocities of Nazi Germany are well known, mostly because they are so well-covered in popular culture. I have found that few people actually know much of anything about what Stalin wrought in his own country and the neighboring ones gobble up to be a part of the USSR. Sepetys' may be the first to cover this topic for a teenage audience. Hopefully more will follow.
The story certainly calls to mind the Holocaust stories that preceded it, but Sepetys does a good job of pointing out the differences between the enslavement/incarceration in Germany and in the Soviet Union. Between Shades of Gray is not an uplifting book, although it is intended to inspire its reader to consider the nature of good and evil. The epilogue, which I am of two minds about, clearly states the author's mission for the book, which is a good one, but is perhaps a bit too forceful when stated directly.
My only concern is whether Between Shades of Gray is dark enough. I read Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago in its entirety, so I have a decent understanding of the Soviet prisons. However, Lina is not in one of the prisons and I know less about the camps like she lives in. Lina's family seems overall to be spectacularly lucky. One illustration of this: Lina, in a very stupid move, draws pictures of pretty much everything that happens to her family and hides them, and not very cleverly. Somehow, though, she does not get caught. I kept expecting her to, as so many people went down for such things in the Soviet Union.
I do not intend this as a definitive criticism, solely as a question to consider, and I would be interested in hearing the opinions of others. My only real basis for comparison is Solzhenitsyn, who was writing for adults and to show the Soviet system at its worst. Whether it is a bit lighter than reality or not, Sepetys has written a wonderful and crucial book for teens.
Look for Between Shades of Gray in stores this March! This is one you shouldn't miss.
a great and touching story........... a must read for everyone
i'm not really into fiction and i had to read this cuz i was one of the people who had to read the books nominated for Wirral Paper Back of the Year (in the Uk) and this was nominated- i was reluctant to pick it up and i just said oh well.
i started reading it and i coundn't put it down. it was so sad and emotional that i nearly cried.
i loved it and it really is a great book