Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys

I had to read Between Shades of Gray. I can't really say I wanted to, but I had to. I've heard great things about this book, and my ancestry is from Lithuania, so it's a story I thought I needed to know. I was worried that this would be a depressing, downer of a book, but Sepetys did a great job of writing in such a way to tear your heart out but at the same time, keep you hopeful.

In 1939, the Russians invaded Lithuania. This story begins in 1941 when Lina (15), her brother Jonas (11), and their mother are brutally taken from their home and put on a crowded train for day after day with little food and no explanation.The story is reminiscent of stories of the Holocaust, where prisoners are basically starved and worked to death. There are at a work camp on a beet farm for several months.

Lina is a wonderful artist and all this time she is leaving a trail of artwork in the hope that her father will find some of these pieces. The friends they make on the train add much to the story with the variety of personalities--the bald man who wants to die, the man who constantly winds his watch, the small girl who carries her doll, Miss Grybas the teacher, and several others. Lina and Jonas become particularly friendly with another young boy, Andrius, who plays a big part in their lives.

The story is gruesome and depressing at times, but Lina also flashes back to her life before these atrocities, which offers some relief. This family is also very strong and deliberately strives to remain hopeful. Don't get me wrong -- it is sad. But it's a beautifully written story of a piece of history that I'm sure isn't covered in most history lessons. After all, this was going on during WWII, and Russia was a US ally. What I wonder is why this went on for another 8 to 10 after the war was over before many of these people were released.

The Author's Note at the end gives a good explanation of the basic timeline and points out some of the true parts of the story. I would really like to see some history classes using this book. It's another example of making people aware of what happened so as to avoid the same thing in the future. It's an important story. Please read this book.

Published by Philomel, March 22, 2011
Copy obtained from the library
341 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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  1. I've heard amazing things about this book, and I'm almost afraid to pick it up -- I don't deal well with tragedy (I prefer to think of happiness and rainbows!). However, I'm always on the lookout for good historicals... Great review!

  2. I think this is a fantastic book and I want to get more of my students to read it

  3. I own it and hope to read it soon. Every review I've read of it has said how important it is.

  4. I really enjoyed this book too. I don't know if enjoyed is the right word, because it was a hard book to read, but it really touched me.

  5. This is on my reading list too because I think it's an important read. I will be honest and say that I'm hesitant to read it due to the depressing nature of i and looking for the right moment to start it. I do think this book is a strong contender for the Printz award this year.


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