Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA historical fiction
Publisher: Philomel Books
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: They took me in my nightgown.
Goodreads blurb: 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.
This book gutted me. I am always amazed at the stories that come out of World War II, and just when I think I know most of what that war was about, a book like this comes along and reveals my ignorance. I knew that Stalin was a monster; I did not know that he slaughtered an estimated 5 to 10 million people. The atrocities he committed are horrifying and beyond human comprehension.
In telling Lina’s story, Ruta Sepetys has taken this horrifying episode in history and distilled it into the story of one girl. One teenage girl who had her whole future ahead of her, a future that was ripped away.
Ruta Sepetys uses beautiful language to describe the stark landscapes of Siberia. The writing in this book is simply magnificent, and yet it is a brutal book. There were times when I had to set it aside, simply to take a breath, look around me, and tear myself away from the conditions and treatment suffered by Lina and her family. This isn’t a book for the faint of heart, but it is such an important story. Important, because the people who suffered under Stalin should never be forgotten, and important because, to this day, Russia tries to deny the sheer magnitude of Stalin’s atrocities.