Publication Date: March 22nd 2011
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.5/5 stars)
Synopsis: 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. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.
Review: I must confess, I’m not one who reads historical novels. But one fine day I was at the library and picked up Between Shades of Gray. I read the first chapter and could not stop reading! I finally understood why everyone was raving about this novel. This book is honestly FANTASTIC. It’s the type of novel I want to buy for everyone for Christmas.
Now prior to reading this book, I have never heard of Lithuania before! Sure I know all about the World War 2 and what Hitler did to the Jews but talk to me about Lithuanians being displaced to Siberian work camps and I will give you a blank look. This book is based on real events and it really upset me to read about how much people suffered during the war. But what upset me the most was that history books nowadays do not include anything about the occupation and annexation of the Baltic states!
The story starts off with Lina and her family being rounded up in the middle of the night by Soviet officers and labeled thieves and prostitutes and put on trains bound for Siberia. Along the way to Siberia, people die, Lina and her family have to survive on the miserable amount of food provided while leaving in a dark and crowded train so filthy it was almost suffocating, and they are separated from their father. Every day people were dying due to scurvy and typhus or just because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. When they reached Siberia, it was not over yet. They had to work hard daily doing manual labour and Lina and her family’s future looked so bleak.
Sepetys’s writing is remarkable. From the harsh depictions of every day life to the roller coaster of emotions Lina undergoes, Sepetys has written a gripping and heartwrenching novel supported by a cast of strong characters. Lina is a strong protagonist and her voice throughout the book is authentic. We cannot feel anything but sympathetic towards her plight. Lina’s mother was also a character that stood out in the novel. She was so noble and despite being in the same situation as everyone else, she made an effort to be nice to the other people in the train compartment and even shared the food with everyone. Her generosity and kindness touched my heart. Lina’s mother was the pillar of strength, she would always be optimistic and never gave up.
I recommend Between Shades of Gray to everyone. It was a beautifully written novel that was educational at the same time. This is a truly unforgettable novel that is not to be missed. One of my favorite books of 2011. You can read the first two chapters here. The paperback version is available now at Book Depository.