Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Please note: this book is nothing to do with the Fifty series…

EXCERPT: They took me in my nightgown.

Thinking back, the signs were there – family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewellery into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realise that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape.

We were taken.

ABOUT ‘BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY’: 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 THOUGHTS: I had previously read Salt to the Sea by this author and really enjoyed it. Over Christmas I saw the movie based on this book, Ashes in the Snow, which I enjoyed, and did not know until the end that it was based on Between Shades of Gray. Although I enjoyed the movie, the book is much better. It is far more detailed and I felt more invested in the characters.

Ruta Sepetys writes simply and beautifully about one of the darkest periods in our history. The beautiful writing only serves to intensify the horror of the atrocities that happened, that she describes so clearly and dispassionately, that she brings to life with her prose.

It is impossible not to fall in love with her characters: Lina is a talented artist with a determination and strength of character that astounded me; she protected her younger brother Jonas with all the fierceness of a lioness protecting her cub, a trait I believe she inherited from her mother; Andrius is the boy/man whom Lina loves and another source of her strength.

This is a harrowing story of hardship, loss, torture and cruelty. Yet it is also a story of strength, love and compassion.

Don’t expect any resolution at the end. The book ends rather abruptly (as did the film) leaving the reader to decide their fate.

This is a story that needed to be told, a truth that needs to be heard, an atrocity that must never be repeated.


“Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?”

THE AUTHOR: Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. The daughter of a refugee, Ruta is drawn to underrepresented stories of strength through struggle and hopes to give voice to those who weren’t able to tell their story.

DISCLOSURE: I borrowed my copy of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, published by Penguin Books, from Waitomo District Library. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my profile page or the about page on

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Author: sandysbookaday

I love good quality chocolate. I love the ocean and love to be in, on or beside it. I read any and every where. I am a proud mum and Nana. I like wine, gin, Southern Comfort, a cold Heineken on a hot day. I am very versatile like that. I cross stitch, do jigsaws, garden, and work on a farm. I am an occasional scribbler. I have far too many books I want to read to ever find the time to die. I am an active member of Goodreads as Sandy *the world could end while I was reading and I would never notice* and review on Amazon under the name Sandyj21. My Goodreads reviews are automatically linked to my Facebook page. Groups I belong to and participate in on Goodreads include: The Mystery, Crime and Thriller Group; Mysteries and Crime Thrillers; Psychological Thrillers; Reading for Pleasure; Crime Detective Mystery Thrillers; English Mysteries; Dead Good Crime; Kindle English Mystery, All About Books and NZ Readers. April 2016 I made the Top 1% of Goodreads reviewers (As follows) Hello Sandy *The world could end while I was reading and I would never notice*, In our community of readers, you stand out in a notable way: You're one of the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads! With every rave and every pan, with every excited GIF and every critical assessment, you've helped the Goodreads community get closer to a very important milestone – the 50 Million Reviews mark!

4 thoughts on “Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys”

  1. Every book I have read by Ruta Sepetys has broken my heart. They are all stories that need to be told, but they are heart breaking. Great review Sandy. I will have to watch Ashes in the Snow.

    Liked by 1 person

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