Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 344
Review from Kat Rose
The synopsis (from Goodreads): 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
This book was absolutely amazing! I am a World War Two lover (it’s my favorite part of history to learn about…call me weird) so I’m always thrilled when I find a book that takes place in that time period with compelling characters and an exhilarating plot. This had both. It takes place in one of the darkest time periods in history but it doesn’t focus on what most people think of when hearing “World War Two.” Instead, it tells the story of a group of people from Lithuania made into criminals by Stalin.
Let me start at the beginning: Lina Vilkas is a fantastic protagonist. She starts out as a normal 15-year-old girl worrying about getting into an art school. However, by the end she has turned into a strong (mentally, though some could argue physically…even if her body is literally sapped of meat) 16-year-old striving to keep herself, her little brother, and her mother alive. It’s really quite spectacular the lengths she goes to, in caring for her family but also striving to leave her mark on the world so she is not forgotten.
I love the cast of supporting characters. Each one is different and reacts with Lina in ways that shape who she is, even without her realizing it. The bald man was one whom I especially enjoyed reading. He made the book an even nicer change from normal YA reads. How? Well, most often the love interest is the one shrouded in shadow and constantly keeping secrets that make the protagonist seem needy and whiny and just plain ole annoying. What was different about this was that the secretive one was simply some man who is with Lina the entire time, one that she doesn’t like all that much, one that she is unwilling to help from time to time because of his rude personality.
Moving on, Kretzsky was also a welcome change. When he was first introduced as young and blond, I worried that Lina would get sucked into a love triangle. This would have totally ruined the whole book for me because this is one of those books where you don’t want love to be the main focus. (Don’t get me wrong: I very rarely read a book without some romantic element in it, but I am sick and tired of the love triangle and the fact that the only reason the plot keeps going is because the protagonist can’t decide who she loves *whiny baby face*.)
It was incredibly refreshing.
Andrius Arvydas was the perfect significant other for Lina. For me (and this is only because I’m good at predicting who characters are going to be, from the love interest to the antagonist to the bratty girl everyone wants to have jump off a bridge) I knew he would most likely be the love interest the second Lina said a boy her age had climbed into the train at the start of their journey. However, Andrius was the perfect blend of rude, cocky, and caring that I love to read about and salivate over. He wasn’t a jerk, he didn’t try to kill Lina, he didn’t keep a billion secrets from her that would cause any girl outside of a sappy YA romance to walk away. He had legitimate problems that didn’t center solely on the protagonist and didn’t have a dark past to boot.
The plot was also incredible. I like that Ms. Sepetys didn’t spend pages upon pages describing every single aspect of the world. She did it in sparse prose that left a vivid picture of everything in my mind. For example, when Lina arrived in the camp by the Laptev Sea, I literally felt chills and had to remind myself that outside of my bedroom window, it was a pleasant 72 degrees.
I loved viewing this world from Lina’s perspective, experiencing things as she did, jumping to the wrong conclusions with her, rooting for her and her little brother Jonas and her mother to stay alive. I’m still salivating over this book. This is definitely worth investing money on.
I recommend it for everyone who is looking for an adventure/survival story in a bleak world with a complex group of characters and a heartbreaking yet heartwarming (and REALISTIC) love. Brava, Ms. Sepetys. This debut is fantastic!