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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (thoughts)

January 30, 2013

BetweenShadesOfGrayFrom the publisher’s website:
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? 

I was standing in line at BEA to meet Ruta Sepetys and have her sign Between Shades of Gray when two women walked by.

Woman 1: What’s that line for?
Woman 2: *with disgust* Oh, looks like one of the 50 Shades of Grey books.

The story contained in the pages of this book couldn’t be further from that of 50 Shades of Grey, but that assumption made me think of another association I’ve been guilty of.

When you hear the words “WW2 labour camp”, what do you think of? My first thought has always been of Nazi camps because for some reason I always assumed that labour and concentration camps were things that primarily belonged to them. But I have been proven wrong.

Between Shades of Gray is a story of one of the hundreds of thousands – even millions – of people who were sent to Soviet prisons and camps during World War 2. Lina is a teenaged girl with a promising future as an artist who is snatched from her home late one night, along with her mother and brother. They had done absolutely nothing, but because the Soviets deemed her university professor father a threat, his entire family was to be punished. The story that follows is heartbreaking, but so amazing that I do not regret any of the tears.

Sepetys’ writing and storytelling capabilities are fantastic. As the summery above says, Lina is an artist. And it’s not simply that she likes to draw, but that she is compelled to; to sort out her thoughts, to make sense of what is going on around her. Sepetys’ descriptions of Lina’s drawings were so vivid that flipping though the book now, I’m kind of surprised to see only text. Surely there were some illustrations in there.

Between Shades of Gray portrays not only the magnitude of evil that people are capable of, but also the good. People who risked their lives to give a stranger a proper burial, who went without food so that someone else could have their meager portion of bread. And it wasn’t just that the people in power were all completely horrible and people who were starving were absolutely selfless, there was a bit of both on each side – although kindness of the Soviet side was few and far between.

There’s so much more I could say about this book, about how wonderful each of the characters are and how terrible everything that happened to them was, but I’ll leave it at this. The quote on the front cover, taken from The Washington Post, says “Few books are beautifully written, fewer till are important; this novel is both”, of which I completely agree. Go read this book.

Source: Finished copy from BEA

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2013 11:03 am

    Read this for my book club! I loved it!! I took some issues with the romance & how it ended (don’t want to spoil it here!), because it just felt like the one thing that was so unrealistic in the plot. Also I probably have no heart haha. But I was SO mesmerized to learn about the Soviet story. I feel like there is so much written about WWII Germany, this was brand new to me. Really fascinating. And Ruta talked to NPR about the 50 Shades/ Shades of Grey mixup – hilarious!

    PS – let me know if you’ll be at this year’s BEA, would love to say hello!

    • January 30, 2013 11:33 am

      I was completely mesmerized by the Soviet story, too. So much that I even read the author’s note and acknowledgements at the end, something I almost never do, just to glean some more information. It’s so sad that the stories of the people involved have been silenced and almost forgotten.

      Thanks for sharing that link! I’m listening to it now – so funny.

      Also, I finished Me Before You last night – which I think I actually first heard of on your blog. I didn’t cry quite as much as I had expected but when I did it was the messy sob variety. Thank you, New Girl, for being there to cheer me up afterwards.

      Still crossing my fingers about BEA and checking for flight deals!

  2. January 30, 2013 5:02 pm

    This is terribly shallow of me, but a reason I didn’t get this at my library the other day was that I worried people would think I was reading 50 Shades of Gray. I am such a shallow person sometimes! (And yet I will still get it on my Nook rather than at the library. :p) It sounds really, really good, and I’m excited to read it.

    • January 30, 2013 5:17 pm

      Don’t worry – I didn’t read it in public for that very same reason. Also, because I didn’t want to risk crying in public, but mostly the 50 Shades thing.

      I hope you do read it soon, though, because it is really very good!

  3. January 31, 2013 11:24 am

    I really want to read this book ever since I saw a video of the author speaking of why she wrote it. Just that had me crying! So I have been putting it off because I need to be in the right mood to read it since I know I will find it utterly heartbreaking even though I know it’s also hopeful.

  4. January 31, 2013 4:17 pm

    I have heard good things about this book!

  5. February 1, 2013 5:13 pm

    If you are interested in this sort of stuff, let me throw you a link. One of my dad’s former employers was a young woman that was sent to a Soviet labor camp. She has recently put out a memoir (linked below) that you might be interested in. I’ll admit that I haven’t read it but both of my parents have and say it’s pretty good. It’s certainly on my list.

    PS – found your blog through Nerdfighteria. DFTBA!

    • February 1, 2013 8:20 pm

      Wow, this sounds like an amazing story – thanks for sharing! DFTBA :)


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