Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Review: Between Shades Of Gray – Ruta Sepetys


Between Shades Of Gray – Ruta Sepetys


It's 1941 and fifteen-year-old artist Lina Vilkas is on Stalin's extermination list. Deported to a prison camp in Siberia, Lina fights for her life, fearless, risking everything to save her family. It's a long and harrowing journey and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?


Review: 

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.” – Between Shades of Gray


I don’t think I’ve ever started a review with a quote before, but that’s some brilliant writing right there. It deserves to be slapped up at the top. The whole book is beautifully written.

Between Shades of Gray tells the story of a Lithuanian teenager, Lina Vilkas, whose life is threatened when the Russian army invades Lithuania in the 1940s. Her family is on Stalin’s “enemies” list. Before they can flee the country, they’re captured and sent to a Siberian prison camp. With no hope of escape, Lina has to make the best of a bad situation.

I was interested in this book because my ancestors were also on Stalin’s list. My family lived in Russia for hundreds of years, but they weren’t ethnically Russian, so Stalin considered them enemies. The ones who didn’t get out of Russia before the 1940s were sent to prison camps. One-third (I think?) of the people in the camps died. So, that’s the story of why I’m American and not Russian. My great-grandparents got out.

Back to the book: I liked it. It’s about prison camps, so it has the potential to be massively depressing, but it’s actually a hopeful story. It focuses on the goodness of people and how strangers can help each other survive horrible situations.

The setting is well-developed. It’s easy to picture the train cars stuffed with prisoners, and the lice-infested shacks at the camps. I’ve never been to Siberia, and I wasn’t alive in the 1940s, but this novel brought everything to life for me.

“Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?” – Between Shades of Gray


I love every character in this book. Lina and her love interest, Andrius, are strong and determined to keep their families alive. Unlike in many young adult stories, the parents are actually competent. They do whatever it takes to protect their children. I only have one complaint about the characters. I wish Lina had more agency. I realize she’s a prisoner, and she doesn’t have control over her life, but she doesn’t really do anything. She’s mostly an observer. Her mother and Andrius do more to move the plot than she does, which is weird because she’s the main character. 

There is a romantic subplot, but it’s kept to a minimum. I appreciate that because it would have been easy for the love story to dominate over everything else. The author keeps the focus on the camp and the characters’ survival. I think that was the right move.   

“We'd been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. I realized that if we boosted one another, maybe we'd get a little closer.” – Between Shades of Gray


The beginning hooked me right away. I stayed up way too late at night because I didn’t want to put the book down. But, then the plot became a little too slow for my tastes toward the middle/end. Once the characters are settled into their routine at the prison camp, I feel like the story loses some of its urgency. I understand why the plot slows down. For the characters, time passes slowly in the camps, but it’s too slow for me.

Between Shades of Gray is an important book. Many people don’t know about the Siberian prison camps. During history lessons at school, Stalin’s actions often get overshadowed by the other events of WWII. I’m glad this book is so popular because it’s bringing attention to a part of history that is sometimes overlooked. I’m excited to read Ruta Sepetys’s other books.






11 comments:

  1. Good review. I have travelled through Siberia and loved it. The brains of Russia are in Siberia because so many of the intellectuals were exiled there, starting with the Czars and continuing on through Stalin. You don't see any Stalin statues in Russia these days but there are still some of Lenin.

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    1. It’s awesome that you’ve traveled so much. I’d love to go to Russia and see where my ancestors lived.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. you made me want to read this book, I have seen reviews for it but never I did want to read but perhaps I'll check it out now.

    have a lovely day.

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  3. I have this on my kindle and really need to get to it. I read her latest and really liked it so I know I will enjoy this even with a sad tpic. Glad it did feel hopeful though too. Great review!

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    1. I really want to read Salt to the Sea. I’ve heard that it’s better than this one.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. Love your review! I wanted to read this book to take a break from books with heavy romance, so I think it's perfect for that. The romance was short and sweet so I felt like it was a little taste but not overpowering. Also, isn't the story so incredible? I've never read this story about WWII before so it was definitely refreshing.

    Lovely review!

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  5. This is one that I definitely want to read. I met this author and she talked about her research and I was impressed. Great review!

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  6. I listened to this book on audio. I remember being put off a bit by the narrator's chipper voice, regardless of how bad things were.

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  7. I spent a good deal of time in Latvia in the early 1990s, and it seemed that everyone had a family member who had either died in Siberia or had quietly resettled from there back in Latvia sometime in the 50s or 60s. I like Sepetys's other two books even more.

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  8. I have heard a lot about how brilliant this author's storytelling and writing style is, but I actually have yet to read her books. I've heard more about Salt to Sea, and intend to start off with that one. Your review has me convinced this one is equally wonderful, so I will probably read it afterwards!

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