Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

From Goodreads: 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. 

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: We all know about the plight of Jews under Nazi Germany, but the suffering of people from the Baltic states (i.e. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) during Stalin’s regime is one that most people probably aren’t aware of. So, kudos to Ruta Sepetys for writing Between Shades of Gray and giving voice to those people who were silenced. 

I find it shocking that more than twenty million people died in Soviet prisons or as deportees in Siberia; and that those who survived had often spent as many ten to fifteen years in forced labour camps. These survivors and their descendants were considered criminals by the Soviets until 1991!  

Lina’s story was hard to read; but amidst that horror, Sepetys shows our ability to be resilient even in the worst of circumstances. I also liked that the Russians featured in the book were portrayed as human – some were terrible, but others were capable of kindness.

A historical fiction that should be read, Between Shades of Gray was released in March 2011 by Philomel Books. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s such a striking image – the plant has managed to survive despite the harsh environment.


  1. I'm so glad you read this one and loved it as much as I did! I was totally shocked by the event as well, especially since it was new to me. Every chance I get if the period comes up I try and mention what happened.

  2. I've heard a lot about Sepetys recently, with her latest novel, and I have that on my tbr, although not this one. I'll be really interested to see how I go with her writing and what it's like, reading about these events that happened but that were rarely taught, which seems like maybe something she focuses on writing about, and is just so important.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this, and I can totally understand that it would have been hard to read. Books set during the war, or taking place around events of mass death and disaster, they're absolutely important but utterly devastating, especially when they're about things that are new to your knowledge. And it can be so hard to kep reading, even if you know you should. xx

  3. I read this one just recently for the second time with students in my Creative Writing class. I wanted them to fully understand the importance of research. It's a small group so we had a chance to really talk about it and they all loved the book.

  4. Ms. Sepetys is such a brilliant historian. I've been meaning to read this one, but I can't seem to find my copy. I'm a huge fan of reading historical fiction set in the background of humanity's great strife, so this one was a no brainer.

  5. I've had this on my list forever Z! One of these days I'm going to make time for it, it sounds amazing. I love that Sepetys shines light on lesser-known aspects of major wars or tragedies, even though it makes my heart heavy, I love learning something new as I read.

  6. I really do want to read this book. My sister has read a couple of her novels and loved them, and I know she owns Salt to the Sea which also sounds great. Thanks for the lovely review - I'm glad to hear you liked this one.



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