“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction, World War II,
Published March 22nd 2011 by Philomel Books
Rating – 5/5
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.
WOW. This was absolutely breathtaking, heartbreaking yet the most alluring read I have read for a long time. I absolutely loved it and I definitely would recommend this to anyone who loves historical fiction or just a powerful story. One of my favorite things about Ruta Sepetys is that she writes about historical events which are not commonly studied about and that is what makes her stories so interesting. In terms of World War II, I was definitely aware of Hitler’s regime and his genocide of the Jewish community, but I never knew about Stalin’s crimes against the people of the Baltic region. The title accurately reflects the plot/characters of the novel in which we see that a person’s character is not entirely black and white – there are those who may be on the “wrong” side but are actually kind and there are people who may be on the “right” side and can end up hurting others.
And I’m sure you all may be curious – Did I cry? OH YOU BET I DID!!! OMGGG!
Lina Vilkas – Outspoken; Courageous; Strong; It was definitely interesting to read through Lina’s perspective. While I will say that she is flawed in the beginning, with less regard for others and a bit defensive, she gradually grows and we see her become someone who uses her voice and provides hope and strength for others.
Jonas Vilkas – Sweet and Cute LOL; Ahhh what can I say about this cutie patootie? I love this kid to bits. He’s just the sweetest little cinnamon roll that you want to protect forever! There were some scenes which described this character so well that you just want to pick him up and give him a hug.
Elena Vilkas – Warm; Comforting; I will have to say Elena is probably the sweetest and iconic motherly figure I have seen in all YA novels. There is a level of grace, strength and love that she has not only for her family but for the people around her which makes her such a beautiful character. As the mother of Lina and Jonas, she makes it a priority to safeguard and protect her family while simultaneously giving them ample amounts of courage and hope and I loved that about her.
Andrius Arvydas – Smart; Empathetic; While it did take a while for him to grow on me, I eventually found myself falling hard. I absolutely love the amount of effort he goes through to help others despite his the precarious situation he is in. It shows that he has a lot of courage and a strong desire to help those in need. It was also beautiful to see the relationship between him and Lina grow that it tugged on your heartstrings.
“Don’t give them anything, Lina. Not even your fear”
Human Spirit. Hope. Love. Courage.
If I were to tie the themes of the book together, I think those words truly capture the aura of the novel and it is so well done! In a time where the most ugliest parts of humanity were showcased, one may wonder how anyone can survive something like this. And I think Ruta Sepetys showcased this clearly through weaving the theme of love and hope into the storyline. Whether it be love for family and friends or love for your art/music, it served as a focal point which many people used to combat this horrible event in history. I also appreciated how she delineates the strength of the human spirit in this novel.
Ruta Sepetys writing really helped transport us to 1941 and it is clear that she had done extensive research to showcase the harsh realities of the Baltic Genocide. The World during this time really did strike fear into our hearts and it pains you as a reader to read through the bloodcurdling and terrifying experiences that the people had to go through. Being transported through a cattle car train, being separated from families, forced to work in labor camps and facing the most cruelest abuse from the Soviet guards were only some of the conditions which these people had to face but you end up admiring their resilience through these events. In fact, there were moments which Ruta Sepetys sprinkled throughout the book which warmed your heart – moments with Lina and her family, moments with Lina and Andrius, etc.
Overall, I absolutely loved this story. I learned so much about a part of history which I never heard before and I am so thankful that Ruta Sepetys shared story like this. Honestly she had now become one of my favorite authors and I can’t wait to pick up her other books!
In addition to the storyline, the characters and the world, the writing was also exquisite. It was not super detailed and thorough like something out of a textbook, but it was just enough and to the point which evokes emotion and compassion for the characters’ immense struggles. Ruta Septeys definitely has an addicting quality to her writing. I never wanted to stop reading. I think it helps that the chapters are short but they end with a cliffhanger or an interesting moment which just compels you to keep going. And I was HOOKED! To add on to that, I also noticed how she never shies away from the harsh brutalities that the characters had to face. She keeps it real and I think that is what makes this story so powerful. And not to mention heartbreaking, I lost a bucket of tears!
Have you guys read Between Shades of Gray? What were your thoughts on it? Let me know!
Until next time, keep reading and I will see you all soon with another bookish post!