One of my fellow co-workers and I both share a love for the historical-fiction genre. After she completes a gripping read she gladly hands the book off to me to allow someone else to experience the story. She devoured Between Shades of Gray in just two days over a rainy weekend and arrived to work the following Monday, insisting the book is a must-read.
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A knock comes at the door in the dead of night, and Lina’s life changes in an instant. With her young brother and mother, she is hauled away by the Soviet secret police from her home in Lithuania and thrown into a cattle car en route to Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina secretly passes along clues in the form of drawings, hoping they will reach his prison camp. But will her letters, or her courage, be enough to reunite her family? Will they be enough to keep her alive?
I’ve read many stories placed in the horrific settings of WWII, involving German invasions and the victims the dictatorship consumed. Between Shades of Gray offers a story taking place around the same time-period, but this time, Joseph Stalin is the dictator and the Soviet Union is the one invading and taking prisoners from surrounding countries. Before reading Between Shades of Gray, I had little to no knowledge of Joseph Stalin and the movement of destruction he led with his brutal reign. The book offered another side of WWII that I believe has been somewhat lost in the shadows of Hitler’s dictatorship. Between Shades of Gray is a story that offers a glimpse of the unimaginable conditions that millions of people endured.
I shut the bathroom door and caught sight of my face in the mirror. I had no idea how quickly it was to change, to fade. If I had, I would have stared at my reflection, memorizing it. It was the last time I would look into a real mirror for more than a decade.
The story includes a good number of characters offering an array of different perspectives and viewpoints. The main character, Lina, is a young Lithuania teenage girl who enjoys painting and reading. She is taken from her home along with her younger brother, Jonah, and mother. While traveling by truck and train to the work camp, Lina and her family meet a number of other prisoners, as well as members of the NKVD, who serve as secondary characters in the story representing and offering varying emotions and ideals.
writing style & tone
The story unfolds in a linear time line with occasional flashbacks by Lina to a more peaceful time before the ruling of Stalin. The book contains very short chapters of just a couple of pages. The book is intended for a younger audience, so the writing style is not very complex and easy to understand and follow. Allowing the book to be a quick read while offering a powerful story.
likes & dislikes
I enjoyed the writing style and ease of flow of the story. The imagery, surroundings and characters are built at just the right amount, allowing the reader to easily connect with the characters while experiencing strong emotions as the characters face a series of tribulations. The story is heartbreaking, giving the reader a glimpse into the suffering endured by many under the ruling of Stalin.
As far as dislikes, honestly, there was not much I did not like about Between Shades of Gray. The story consistently kept my attention, and sparked an interest in myself to learn more about this time period.
Recommendation & Rating
I recommend this book for young readers around the age of 12 and older with an interest in history or historical fiction to help broaden their knowledge of the happenings of WWII. I also recommend this book to adult readers who are also interested in the historical fiction genre but has a hard time digesting gory scenes.
I rate Between Shades of Gray at five stars!
About The Author:
Ruta Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee. Born in Michigan, she was raised in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. Ruta is passionate about the power of history and story to foster global dialogue and connectivity.
Sepetys is considered a “crossover” novelist as her books are read by both students and adults worldwide. Winner of the Carnegie Medal, Ruta is renowned for giving voice to underrepresented history and those who experienced it. Her books have won or been shortlisted for over forty book prizes, are included on over thirty state reading lists, and are currently in development for film and television.
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