Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

HARDCOVER; 354 P.
TRANS. MARIA LYYTINEN
WSOY, 2011
SOURCE: PURCHASED

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.

When I started to follow book blogs, this book was often featured on bloggers’ book hauls. The title caught my interest, but as I couldn’t find it on the shelves of the bookstores I visit, the book slipped my mind. I eventually picked this up from a second-hand bookshop in October, but for some reason it took me a few months to finally start reading it. 

The story begins in Lithuania where a 15-year-old girl, Lina, and her mother and brother are taken from their home in the middle of a night. They are packed into a train with several others Lithuanians and sent to Siberia. At first, Lina can’t understand what is happening or why it is happening, but through flashbacks and hints from other passengers, the picture becomes clearer. In comparison to other WWII books that I’ve read, Lina’s story is different in the aspect that the main oppressor here isn’t Hitler, but Stalin. Ruta Sepetys’ family history dates to Lithuania and the book is her grandmother’s story of the terror that the nation had to endure.

I really enjoyed reading Between Shades of Gray. It was touching and so easy to read, that I literally sat down on the couch and read 70 pages in an hour. In that sense, it was a perfect read for a read-a-thon. I loved the different characters (Andrius♥) in the book and seeing their different strategies for survival. It was gruesome to think that the people have had to live a life of such misery. But despite all the sadness, there book still has love and laughter which makes it so heartwarming. However, there were some aspects in the book that I think would have benefited from more explanation. Not being that well rehearsed in the history of Lithuania, there were moments where I found myself confused by names or hints to certain events. Another thing that I know has raised a lot of discussion on this book, is it’s abrupt ending. I’m not going to spoil it, but I will say that looking back, I do also think that it was a bit too rushed.

After I finished the book, I battled between giving it 4 or 5 stars in Goodreads. Since you can’t give half stars, I couldn’t decide whether this book was closer to 4 or 5. I kept going back and forth, but I think I’ve now settled on 4 stars. However, the books is lovely, touching and definitely worth reading! Especially if you don’t  know what happened in Eastern Europe during WWII – this story will open your eyes.

4.5/5

“Hello, Lina. You’ve gotten to page 278. That’s pretty good!
I gasped, then pretened I was engrossed in the book. I looked at Andrius’s handwritting. I ran my finger over this elongated letters in my name. Were there more? I knew I should read onward. I couldn’t wait. I turned though the pages carefully, scanning the margins.
Page 300:
Are you really on page 300 or are you skipping ahead now?
I had to stifle my laughter.
Page 322:
Dombey and Son is boring. Admit it.
Page 364:
I’m thinking of you.
Page 412:
Are you maybe thinking of me?
I closed my eyes.
Yes, I’m thinking of you. Happy birthday, Andrius.”

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