Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Summary:Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life--until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father's prison camp. But will strength, love, and hope be enough for Lina and her family to survive?
Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?
What more is there to say that hasn’t been said? Between Shades of Gray is phenomenal in every aspect, and the emotions it provokes is just unbelievable.
Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.
The story starts with a knock on the door in the middle of a summer night in 1941. 15-year-old when Lina, an aspiring artist, and her family are transported to and from various labor camps in Europe and Asia for being “anti-Soviet”. When Lina is separated from her father, she is forced to use clues from his artwork to decipher where he is.
The wonder of this book – in my eyes – is the historical fiction aspect. When you think of World War II, the first thing that will probably come into your mind is the Holocaust and Hitler. But Between Shades of Gray describes such a different side of the war. It focuses on the indignities and wrongdoings of the Soviets. Since when have any of us heard about the brutal labor camps in Siberia? Are they so much as in a high school history textbook? It’s so pitiful that the pains these people have endured are not even common knowledge, and your heart will ache for these characters as you read about their journey.
We’ll soon be back in our homes. When the rest of the world finds out what the Soviets are doing, they will put an end to all of this.
Yet, unlike most historical fiction books, the main focus of Ruta’s novel is not the wrongdoings humanity has made in the past. Rather, this is a story about love, hope and faith and how tragedies – as horrible as they are – unite us as people, and I think that’s a wonderful message.
The writing and characterizations in Between Shades of Gray particularly stood out to me as being superlative. Ruta manages to make each character memorable and distinct, from our protagonist Lina and her bravery to Andruis – the love interest – to Lina’s naive and sweet 10 year old brother Jonah, to the other prisoners. Writing-wise, Ruta has an eloquent and almost effortless prose. The metaphors in the writing combined with the beautiful phrases she concocted created something almost magical. Her writing is simple, yet it is beautiful and powerful all the same.
I’d absolutely recommend this. You will not regret it; and you will be changed by what a beautiful, emotional experience it is.