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Review: Between Shades of Gray (Ruta Sepetys)

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA historical fiction
Pages: 344
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library
Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It's a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?

Review: I've seen quite a few reviews of this book, all of which were positive so I ordered it for my school library and "stole" it as soon as I had processed it. Yes, I read it before putting it out for our students. There, I admit it. And boy and I am glad I did!

I love books centered on World War II and thought this book was going to be a Holocaust book (I had been careful not to read details in the reviews so as not to spoil the book for me). Instead, this story covers a series of events that I knew nothing about it: the deportation of Baltic peoples (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) by the Soviets.

The harsh conditions, the atrocious behavior on the part of the Soviet soldiers and commanders, the hope and strength of the "prisoners" is all so well depicted in this novel. I feel like I really got to know the characters, could understand their pain and anguish, and could "see" where they were traveling. I loved that there are two maps at the front of the book: one shows the route the families traveled and the other shows the route with the days the book spans.

Lina is an artist and I liked how her art is interspersed throughout the book. The reader doesn't see the drawings themselves, but rather reads descriptions of the art work and what it means to her. I also liked the use of short flashbacks (represented in italics) that relate to what Lina is going through at the moment. It allows the reader to better understand her and what her life was like before deportation.

If you want an interesting, well-written, historical fiction book that will teach you about a subject you may not know, this is the book for you!

Geography Connection:

Click to see my updated Google Map. Lithuania and Russia in the 1940s. We don't really get to see much happening in Lithuania, it is really the Siberian countryside that dominates this novel. What a cold, forbidding, and difficult place to be. I have only read one other book that took place in Siberia: a book about traveling to the coldest, hottest, driest and wettest place on earth, it really was fascinating!


Athira said...

I've been hearing so much about this one. I actually took it from the library a few weeks ago but never got to read it. I had to return it back, but I'm hoping to pick it up again sometime next month.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Aths--This is a book you would like: WWII and human interest all rolled into one