Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray
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.

Between Shades of Gray is one of the most heartbreaking yet still uplifting stories I have ever read, and I thank Sepetys for sharing this story with all of us. This novel, based on historical events, is about Stalin’s brutal annexation and persecution of the Baltic region and focuses on a girl named Lina, her brother and her mother who are sent to a work camp in Siberia. While Sepetys’s story is full of struggle, it shows how powerful hope and love are, and am so glad that Sepetys has shared her story with the world.

Without a doubt, Between Shades of Gray is the most heart-wrenching story I have read all year. I am grateful to sad stories because of the perspective they offer. It’s hard to complain about graduate school applications when I read about characters who are treated with brutality and struggling just to stay alive. Reading about Lina’s hope for outside help made me think about present day conflicts and what outsiders can do to bring cruelty to a stop.

Sepetys’s writing is beautiful because it’s simple, yet not once does it let me forget how human the characters are. I loved that Lina sought to capture every nuance of her experience through her drawings from the pain everyone felt to memories that brought happiness to everyone’s lives. It was incredible to read about how love helped Lina and her family hold on to their determination. Her narrative is also reminder of how powerful a small act of human compassion can be, and how love can pull people through the hardest times, and this element of the story brought me to tears at the end. Part of the reason I thought about this so much was because of the author video on the book’s website, which I highly recommend watching.

I’m not honestly sure if I have the words to sufficiently describe what an incredible story this is. Between Shades of Gray is an unforgettable story, and I hope that Sepetys’s dream of seeing it in classrooms and libraries comes true. If you only read one historical fiction book in 2011, make it this one.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book through Star Book Tours.


  1. I've been anxiously waiting for this one to come out! It's on my kindle now waiting for me and your review just wants to make me read it even more! :D

    Lisa (baffledbooks.com)

  2. I usually don't like reading stories that have to do with war. I guess I've heard so much in school and my dad and grandpa being a veteran. However, this one sounds so powerful and emotional I think it would be a good experience.

  3. This book sound emotionally gripping. I think as a tribute to the author's grandmother, we all need to read this book. Please enter me in this contest.




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