Book: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: March 2012
My Rating: 4/5
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.
To say I was hesitant to read this book is pretty much an understatement. I bought it on a book fair here in my city, it was the only book cover that I recognized, but I didn’t remember what it was about, and the back cover summary wasn’t giving much away, so I took a chance and bought it.
When I later read Goodread’s description I was freaking out a little. It was way far from my usual reads. In fact, I’m not a fan of history. At all. So yes, I was scared of reading it and hating it, even more when I heard a few people saying they were disappointed with it.
As it turns out it wasn’t so bad after all, and if I’m being completely honest, it was way more than just “not bad.” It was amazing and beautiful.
I was scared it would be more of a history lesson, and I wouldn’t understand much since my knowledge in this topic is pretty limited. I’m bad in history, I have a bad memory so it’s hard to remember things that don’t really call my attention. History in school was hell for me.
But Between Shades of Gray was a moving and beautiful book. And also, a book I find very difficult to review. Maybe it’s because I read it in Spanish and now I have to translate every word in my head to write this review, and maybe it is because I’m still in that high after reading such a good book.
Between Shades of Gray made me cry, and cry, and scream some, and cry some more. It was incredibly touching and emotive. It was beautifully written too (keep in mind that I read the Spanish translation, and if you remember me saying that I hate reading translated books, to say that I liked this one, is saying a lot).
It follows the story of Lina, a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl deported along with her mother and little brother by the NKVD under Stalin’s orders, around 1941.
The horrors and atrocities these people went through on a daily basis is unimaginable. It hurts just to think it could be possible, and the thing is: it was. It happened.
“Sure, we were safe. Safe in the arms in hell.”
They starve, they get sick, they die. People work to their bones for a little bit of food. 300 grams of bread, actually. They are humiliated, tortured, killed.
The novel does nothing to hide the horrors they went through, as it shouldn’t. I think the pain and anger Lina felt was amazingly portrayed in this novel. I was angry along with her, I was livid! I wanted to get into the book and punch everyone in the face. And maybe hug Lina and Andrius, and her brother. And yeah.
“I planted a seed of hatred in my heart. I swore it would grow to be a massive tree whose roots would strangle them all.”
But not all is pain and hurt. There’s love, too. I think this is what made be fall in love with this book. That no matter how much pain and suffering you’re going through there’s always that ray of sun shinning through that will keep you going, as cheesy as it may sound. Lina’s little say of sunshine was her family, her mother and her brother, and her need to find her father. And eventually, Andrius too.
I’m too much of a romantic addict not to notice the little romance in the novel and grab onto it to help me keep going. It kept hoping for more, wishing it would turn out okay. I’m too much of a romantic addict not to swoon and cry over the little we get to glimpse of Lina and Andrius’ love and relationship.
Between Shades of Gray might start off slowly, painfully, but it will claw its way into your heart and not let you go. When I was done reading it, I told everyone that would hear about it. I needed to share all the pain and love that was this book. I needed to let it out and maybe get someone else to read it so I could have someone to gush about it with.
I got my wish.
Between Shades of Gray was inevitably dark, but moving, and beautiful, and despite not being my usual genre I loved it just as any other book in my usual genres. I will always keep it close to me, especially since I have it in paperback and can hug it any time I want.
Don’t laugh at me, I’m silly like that sometimes. So what? 😉
“That’s when I saw it. A tiny silver of gold appeared between shades of gray on the horizon.
I stared at the amber band of sunlight, smiling.
The sun had returned.”