Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Author: Ruta Sepetys
Title: Between Shades of Gray
Publisher: Philomel
Release Date: March 2011
Genre: YA-Contemporary

352 pages
Where I got it: An ARC from Star Book Tours

"I shut the bathroom door and caught sight of my face in the mirror.  I had no idea how quickly it was to change, to fade.  If I had, I would have stared at my reflection, memorizing it. It was the last time I would look into a real mirror for more than a decade."

What is it about: Ruta Sepetys novel tells the story of Lina Vilkas, a Lithuanian teenager, whose family is taken, by the Russian secret police, to work camps in Siberia during World War II.  Lina's father is a university professor who helps some relatives escape into Germany at the beginning of the Russian occupation of Lithuania.  As a result, Lina's family (her mother, father and ten year old brother Jonas) are put on a list to be sent to Siberia and marked as criminals.  Lina, Jonas and their mother are separated from their father and Lina spends much of the book using drawings as a means of attempting communication with him-wherever he may be.  Lina and her family develop close relationships with the other prisoners and laborers, who are all attempting to survive the merciless cold, the back-breaking work, the disease, and the meager rations that have become everyday life.

What I liked:  I learned from this book.  I learned about the Russian occupation of the Baltic countries during World War II.  This is a unique perspective on a part of history that is often written about.

I also enjoyed the human aspects of the book.  Lina is a strong narrator.  She adapts to her extreme circumstances and walks a thin line between maturity and youth.  She is forced into adulthood, but still maintains qualities of a typical teenage girl.  She is an artist, who finds power in the art she creates.  The relationships that develops between the characters in the book seem natural to the situation. The closeness of the characters, and their attachments to each other makes the reader feel attached as well.

Overall:  This was an emotional book, on a difficult topic, written with grace.  I believe that this book will appeal to educators and teenagers alike.  It illuminates an important part of history, while developing characters and relationships, and telling an often suspenseful and always readable story, which in the end is a human one.


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