Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys


“It is 1941 and fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to summer. Then suddenly, her life is changed forever. One night, the Soviet secret police invade her home and forcibly remove Lina, her mother and brother; transporting them via cattle trucks from familiar Lithuania to remote Siberia. The conditions are horrific, the genocide unseen and thousands of lives are lost.

In this dramatic and moving story, Lina must fight for her life and for the lives of those around her. Her harrowing journey and incredible strength of spirit will steal your breath, capture your heart and give you hope.”

I faced a bit of a dilemma once I finished this book.

How could I describe how I felt about it? How could I say I liked it without that sounding sadistic? How could I say I enjoyed it when it left me constantly on the verge of tears?

So instead I will say that Lina’s story of survival, her spirit, her love and her hope were completely inspiring.

As we learn from the blurb, Lina and her family are forcibly removed from their home in Lithuania by the NKVD (the Russian secret police, later known as the KGB) in 1941, two years into WWII, and shoved into a truck with other innocent citizens who have been deemed criminals by the Soviets, destined for deportation. Already completely terrified, they find themselves at a train station filled with other Lithuanians and mass hysteria. The family struggle to stick together as they’re thrust into cattle trains that will be the beginning of a horrifying ordeal where they will suffer through labour camps, disease, starvation, indignity and injustice.

The story in Between Shades of Gray has two sides. One is the side that illustrates the harrowing journey faced by victims of the Soviet’s invasion of Eastern Europe, while the other side presents a story of strength and hope.

I feel like I’m repeating what many reviewers have already noted so far (but I’ll say it anyway) – most stories from WWII focus on Germany and the Jewish genocide, with not many touching on the invasion of Eastern Europe (which includes Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland). Till this book came alone I didn’t actually know anything about it at all. So in that way, this book was very eye opening.

Reading this novel, when it came to just how much these people suffered, I felt this intense pain grip my heart, similar to how I feel every time I read a story about the Jewish genocide, you just can’t fathom how people could be so cruel to one another. What makes it even worse is that these stories are based on true accounts.

However, even though Ruta Sepetys shows us the brutal side of humanity, she also shows how people can come together even in the most horrid circumstances. It was amazing to see people risk their lives to defy their captors and bring a piece of hope to another deportee whether it be in the form of news about a loved one, or extra food. It was these points of light in the book that lifted the story and made it more than just a tragedy.

Our main character Lina was such a star. Her defiance and strength in the face of such hardship should be admired. Intermixed in the story are her memories of her father, cousin Joanna and life before the deportation which both added to the story and lightened it. Her mother and brother were also so brave, especially her mother who held herself together not just for her family but for the other people in the camp. I also really loved Andrius….you’ll find out why.

Between Shades of Gray is a beautiful, compelling and emotional read. Ruta Sepetys bring to light a not often spoken about time in history and shows us that even in the worst circumstances there is still hope and there is still love.

Pages: 344
Publication Date: April 2011
Publisher: Penguin
Challenge: Debut Author/Historical Fiction
Rating: [rating:4.5]

Teaser Quote: “My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape. We were taken.”

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