Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys – 344 pages
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.
My Review: 4 stars
Between Shades of Gray is a Young Adult novel that takes place during WW2, and follows the displacement of a young girl from Lithuania to the work camps in Siberia. I knew very little about these work camps in the Arctic and the Baltic Deportation.
Lina, the main protagonist in this novel was smart, artistic and brave as she faced the cruelty of the NKVD (the Security Police of the Soviet Union). Stalin exterminated mostly men and boys and sent the women and children to the work camps so that he’d solve the problem of offspring. Stalin is responsible for the genocide of 20 million people during WW2. I’m grateful to this author to bringing this horrific part of history to light.
Sketching became a coping mechanism for Lina as she secretly recorded maps and timelines. Additionally, her ability to create hand drawn portraits of the officers is what likely saved her life. At fifteen she grew up far to fast but it was necessary for survival. Her first brush with romance at the camp was extremely well done as it was innocent yet fierce. It gave Lina even more strength to endure.
The prisoners at this camp were malnourished, lived in brutal weather conditions, worked themselves to the bone and had lost almost everything that mattered; yet somehow they found hope. They found that kindness towards one another was more important than hate. They helped each other through unimaginable circumstances. Even though this book is categorized as YA, it’s an excellent reminder about the importance of kindness and the value of hope.
Sadly, this book had the misfortune of coming out a few months before Fifty Shades of Grey. I think it got lost in the Fifty Shades hubbub, which was a shame. Thankfully, only the titles were similar, not the stories.
I look forward to reading this author’s latest book, Salt to the Sea.
Quotes I liked:
Sometimes there is such beauty in awkwardness. There’s love and emotion trying to express itself, but at the time, it just ends up being awkward.”
-“We’d been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. I realized that if we boosted one another, maybe we’d get a little closer.”
-“Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy—love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.”
-“A wrongdoing doesn’t give us the right to do wrong.”
-“Good men are often more practical than pretty.”
-“Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?”