They took me in my nightgown.
Thinking back, the signs were there — family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape.
We were taken.
– Between Shades of Gray, Chapter One
I don’t often read adult books. I have only read a few over the past two or so years. Among my favorite have been Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
Because I have read so few adult books, I have never written a review for one. This will be the very first adult book review I’ve done, so I hope you enjoy!
Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life — until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father’s prison camp. It takes everything she has to fight her feelings and just stay alive.
What makes this book worth reading
Between Shades of Gray was one of those books that just draws you in on the first page. The story of Lina and her family was both heart-wrenching and beautifully written.
It plays with your hearts strings, at times you aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry, or both!
One thing I loved about this book was that you get insight into a part of history that is not well known, at least not in this part of the world. When you think about 1941, you automatically think about World War II. You think about Hitler and the allies. Not necessarily about the tyranny of the Russians towards all surrounding countries.
The mass relocation of innocent people to work-camps and prisons, most dying on the journey was going on side-by-side with World War II. However, it didn’t end when the war ended but went on for several years afterwards.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is definitely not intended for younger readers. It is what you might consider, a ‘heavy’ read. There is no sugar coating on the horrendous reality of the situation. There is suffering, illness, and even death. Lots of death, in fact. But the way the author handled these tragedies was in a very delicate manner.
Among all of the death and suffering, you witness a tremendous will to live, a will to overcome, and make it through. You see compassion, generosity, tenderness, and changing of heart. Even the most miserable and evil characters have a better side to them.
Lina doesn’t have much faith in anyone. She doesn’t see the good in everyone. She can’t understand why her mother helps others.
But as the story goes on, suddenly people who were never nice to her or her family do something unexpectedly kind.
The fusion of tyranny, evil, suffering, and death with compassion, generosity, and change of heart is what makes this story come to life. It is what makes it beautiful.
“The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.”