Book review 22 - Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Pages: 344
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication date: March 22, 2011
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.
My thoughts:
I’m in my last year of University studying The Holocaust, and in particular I like to focus on the relationships between people in the concentration camps. Now, for whatever reason, that has made me really dislike reading any sort of historical fiction that has anything to do with work/concentration/death camps. I always feel like they are portrayed wrong or have unrealistic aspects and I don’t always think they do the real stories any justice. Now while this wasn’t about the Holocaust, the Siberian prison camps were very similar.
That being said, this book was nothing like I usually read. It was so real. The relationships between people were real and everything was incredibly believable. It is clear that the author did her research and met with many survivors. There is so much love between the people living in these camps. They helped each other any way they could; whether it was giving food up so your children could eat, or helping out someone who maybe wasn’t as greatful as he should have been, they always helped out one another. You get the sense of community between the prisoners in this book that you just don’t see often in the real world. We are selfish beings and often think about ourselves first, while in this story this is not the case. It just shows that even in the worst conditions, humanity can present itself in people.
I don’t really want to go into an in depth review about all the characters and the plot, I think that you should read this book regardless of what I think about the characters and plot. The plot was amazing, the characters were so incredibly dynamic. It was all perfect.
I really wish this book was more popular. I feel like it’s such an important story because this part of history has been so forgotten. Everyone knows about the Holocaust but many people forget what Stalin was doing in the Soviet Union at the same time. At the end of the audiobook (I’m not sure if this is in the real book) there is an afterword by the author and it was really beautiful because she explains what brought her to write this story and a part of it is that it’s something so forgotten, and she even touches upon that in her novel at the end. 

My one and only complaint is (and this may be because I listened to the book, rather than read it) but I didn’t like the jump from present to the past. It was abrupt and I couldn’t tell when it had happened. The end of chapters were also a bit abrupt sometimes. But this in no way took anything away from the story.

Such a beautiful book. This story will stay with me for a long time and I hope I can find myself a used copy of this somewhere because I would love to own the book and read it again eventually.


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