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.
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