Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Genres: Young adult, historical fiction – WWII.

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.

Between Shades of Gray, although a fictional story, is based on first-hand family accounts and memories of survivors. It accounts Stalin’s genocide during WWII and manages to tell history in an exquisite and informative way. I know I’m not the only one who did not know what the Lithuanians (as well as others from the Baltic) went through but it is still shocking to me. How could something as huge as this (it impacted millions of people) go unnoticed and unreported? It is even more harrowing to think that this is only one of many events that show human brutality that go untaught. We learned about WW2 in Britain as well as Hitler and the Nazis. We touched on Russia, Stalin and genocide, but nothing about the Baltic, even though these events happened not even a lifetime ago.

Ruta Sepetys wanted to let everyone know in order to prevent similar events from occurring again. This book is an engaging way to do it. It is not only important in showing what happened but shows that we shouldn’t see those affects as victims, but also as fighters. Another aim was to highlight the aspects of hope and love still present even though the conditions and violence these people were subjected to is unfathomable.

We live in a society where young people aren’t necessarily interested in the past, in history, in other cultures, which is why I’m glad this is a young adult novel. Countries not in The West (politically, not just geographically) take up a large part of the world and so we can’t just ignore them or be indifferent to them. Whilst many adults will also be ignorant, I believe this book is much needed. The author manages to tell the story in perhaps a way a child only can.

I haven’t mentioned too much about what I actually thought of the characters, the storyline, the plot, like I would a normal book, because how can I review events that really happened? All I can say is the way Sepetys writes about the events is brilliant. There isn’t much else I can put into words except: read it now, research these events. It’s important. I am going to lend this book to two family members – two different generations – and I hope that they love it as much as I did. This is a beautifully educational and unforgettable novel that I will be telling people about, and recommending, for a long time.

You can read the first two chapters here.

Thank you Penguin for sending me the book to review!

My Rating: ★★★★★

The Word Herd: This review has been featured on World Book Day YA. See the review here.

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