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Review: BETWEEN SHADS OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

Posted by on February 7, 2011
Between Shades of Gray 
Ruta Sepetys
344 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: May 4th, 2010
Source: ARC from Library
Rating:  LOVED

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 flipped over the last page of Between Shades of Gray, all I could say was “WOW”.

Everything about Ruta Sepetys’s YA debut was heartwrenching and, at the same time, beautiful. There were times when I would smile, but tears would threaten to spill at the same moment.

Throughout the story, I kept thinking back to Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. But Between Shades of Gray stands out. The story of Anne Frank and all the hundreds of thousands of Jews prosecuted during the Nazi regime is well-known throughout history. The people from the small countries of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and other countries suffered almost the same way. Sure, they weren’t gassed and thrown in concentration camps for the whole world to know. But that’s what made it so horrible. The whole world didn’t know.

I don’t usually re-read books, but so many things happened in Between Shades of Gray that I want to relive to remind myself that the cold winters we face in our warm houses are nothing, compared to what Lina and her people faced. To remind myself that when there isn’t enough salt in my lunch, I shouldn’t complain.

I recommend Between Shades of Gray to anyone who has read Anne Frank’s diary and felt something for her. And if you haven’t read her diary, you should still pick this book up.

The efforts Ruta Sepetys put in for researching and compiling such a powerful historical fiction debut have not gone in vain. Pick up a copy of Between Shades of Gray when it debuts in March and relive the events of Stalin’s Reign of Terror through a whole new perspective – the eyes of fifteen year old Lina Vilkas.


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  1. I'm reading this one right now. I also received this ARC from The Library Thing. Its an actual paperback book, which always takes me longer than a kindle version. I'm on chapter 10, but enjoying the descriptive nature of the book. I'm still in shock at the treatment of Lina and her family. Its amazing how cruel humans can be to their own race.

  2. I have this on pre-order. It sounds a little haunting. I know I found Anne Frank haunting. Last year there was an Anne Frank exhibition at our local Art Gallery and there was a cine film playing of a young couple who were getting engaged in a garden overlooked by some low rise flats. There hanging out of the window and watching the proceedings was Anne, captured on film just days before everything started to go wrong for her and her family. It was very moving. I had nightmares about it for ages.

    Anyway, back to the book. I am really looking forward to reading this. It sounds excellent.

  3. I'm glad you liked it too! I agree that what makes this book stand out is the fact that not a lot of people know what happened in these three small countries! This is a book I am going t obuy for sure!

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