TITLE: Between Shades of Gray
AUTHOR: Ruta Sepetys
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Philomel Book/2011
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction
SOURCE: Local Library
Goodreads / Author's Website
Wow, you guys, wow. That's all that I can. Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray is just heartbreaking historical fiction. It tells the story of fifteen year old Lina who is taken from her home in the middle of the night by the NKVD with her mother and younger brother, Jonas. Her father has been separated from him. They don't know where they're going, but they know that they're considered criminals. Absolutely everything is taken from them. Between Shades of Gray is a novel based on the events that occurred in the Baltic nations (specifically Lithuania) after the Soviet Union annexed them.
Lina's family is representative of many families who were taken to their homes and shipped to labour camps, prisons or Siberia for committing the crime of being Anti-Soviet. In World War Two, trapped between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the Baltic states disappeared and did not reemerge for decades. The people living in these countries faced years of fear and torment. Although this book is fictionalized, the heartbreak is real and the stories are based in truth. That's what really got to me.
I was a history major focusing on twentieth century history and while I knew the basics of Lithuania's annexation I did not know the details. The Baltic states seemed to get lost in the tumultuous shuffle of history. Reading about this country specifically was an enlightening experience. Sepetys' descriptions are deeply moving as she paints a picture of the pain and the sacrifice. She does not try to sweep details under the rug; enough of that has been done already. The writing is superb. Heartbreak, pain and suffering are shown and are the driving force behind the book. I was horrified, but I couldn't stop reading. The will and power that these characters show in the face of devastation is a beautiful thing.
The amazing thing about Between Shades of Gray is that it really got me to care about these characters. I started the book knowing that they were all going to face extreme hardships; I assumed they would be sent to Sibera. I didn't expect to be so moved as I went in with a fairly jaded attitude, but I was. I wanted this family to beat the odds.
I'll admit that at the beginning I found myself to be extremely annoyed with Lina; he temper did more harm than good and I just couldn't understand why a sixteen year old girl would have such a naive world view when her ten year old brother could grasp the danger of the situation. It's still a pet peeve of mine actually. However, Elena, her moth was such a force that it nearly made up for the protagonist's attitude. I also loved watching her character grow.
This was an emotional read because it felt real. I connected with the characters and stories, but despite the subject matter I was not left feeling completely depressed. It's not a book aimed at making anybody feel depressed or guilty; it instead showcases human strength and resilience. Read it. You won't regret it.