Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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.

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15 Responses to Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

  1. bermudaonion(Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    This book really struck a chord with me because members of my family survived being exiled to Siberia. I cried throughout the book, but I am so thankful to Sepetys for writing it.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kathy – I can imagine that would make reading this book such a personal experience. She did a remarkable job.

  2. irene says:

    This sounds very good.

  3. Beth Hoffman says:

    I read this book earlier in the year; it was an emotional ride and I thought it was incredibly well done!

  4. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    I agree, just when you have read it all with WWII, someone comes up with a new story. I did know about Stalin because my husband is a font of info (most of it anti-Russian!), but when you boil it down to one little girl it makes it all the more real. My only issue with this book (and it was a big issue) was the audio. When the narrative reflects back to a scene at an earlier time, there is no indication of that in the audio, so it was very confusing. Also I wasn’t too cracked in the narrator. In print, though, this book would be a winner.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Sandy – that is so unfortunate that it had a badly produced audio, because it really is a remarkable read!

  5. Heather
    Twitter: BookAddictHeath
    says:

    I couldn’t agree more, a total must-read. And wow, what gorgeous writing amid these atrocities.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Heather – yes, the writing was so beautiful – I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does next.

  6. I agree that it’s hard to read but important and beautifully written. So glad to see you loved it as much as I did.

  7. Marg
    Twitter: MargReads
    says:

    I really need to read this book.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Marg – it really is remarkable – I only wish it was getting as much buzz as the other “Shades of Gray” book.

  8. Pingback: Favorite historical fiction of 2012 | BOOKS AND MOVIES