Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Teen Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
ISBN-13 Book: 9780399254123
Audiobook Publisher: Penguin Audio
ISBN-13 Audio: 9780142428979
Length: 8 hours (7 CDs)
Disclosure: I was given a copy of the book for committee work and checked out a copy of the audiobook from my public library. This is my honest review!
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Soviet secret police came in the night, pulling fifteen year-old Lina, her mother, and her brother, out of the house and placing them on packed freight cars like animals. In 1941 Soviet secret police came for families like hers, tossing them onto trains, and sending them to Siberia to die in prison camps. Their crime, was merely being Lithuanian, and the daughter of a professor. Separated from her father, taken from her comfortable home, forced to work for the NKVD, and living on scraps, Lina struggles to survive and pass on her story using the one thing they cannot take from her, her art.
You hear about the victims of the Holocaust all the time, we know about the atrocities of Hitler, and there have been many novels written for teens about those events. Sepetys has managed to write a novel for teens about a not so well known event where people are taken from their homes and treated like animals. In 1941 the countries of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were annexed by the Soviet Union. During that time, Stalin had citizens of those countries deported to Siberia where they were forced to work in labor camps.
Lina’s tale is a heart-wrenching one, but one with hope. She is a talented artist who loves to draw, but most of all she is an ordinary girl with a loving family. She is child who has committed no crime, but is sent to a forced labor camp. I think what Sepetys does so brilliantly is draw the reader into Lina’s life and convey to us how normal she was. Throughout the course of this book I kept thinking about how ordinary Lina was, and how one night the government storms in her home and sends her away. You can clearly understand her emotions, her horror, fear, despair, and ultimately through it all her hope.
The novel is beautifully written. Lina is a likable girl, whose feelings and actions seem realistic. She does what she has to do to survive, and keep both her brother and her mother alive. I love Sepetys writing style, she draws you quickly into the story and makes you see Lina as a real girl. The pacing is spot on, never slowing down or losing the reader. The chapters are short, but not too short, which helps keep the pacing swift.
I loved Lina, but the other characters are well written too, including some of the Soviet soldiers. Most of the characters have depth, and are more than what they merely appear to be. Good people do bad or selfish things, and bad people aren’t wholly bad—they have other sides and motivations that Sepetys makes certain the reader can see. In essence, all these people felt so real to me, they could be my neighbors.
Audio Book Review:
The audiobook is produced by Penguin Audio and read by Emily Klein. Klein does an excellent job with the narration, and differentiating between the voices. The production quality is well done, and quite enjoyable. The author’s note at the very end is read by Ruta Sepetys, and it was wonderful to hear her talk about her book—it even brought tears to my eyes.
The audiobook consists of 7 CDs and is approximately 8 hours long and a very enjoyable listening experience. My only caution would be for those listening in cars—I found myself almost crying at a drive through last week, it does bring tears to your eyes. Otherwise the listening experience is highly recommended.
This is an amazing book. Whether you choose to read it or listen to it on audio, I highly recommend that you pick up this book. It is a story that is enlightening and ultimately hopeful. I sincerely wish that everyone could read this novel, it is a story of endurance, hardships, and ultimately the strength of the human spirit.
Cautions for Sensitive Readers:
This novel can be rather grim at times, and has content that is similar to what you might find in a novel about the holocaust. These people were brutalized, some were shot, some died of illness, and in some cases even the children died. It is a difficult and sometimes violent read, but an important one. The Lithuanians were treated like they were animals, less than human. One woman is forced to prostitute herself to save her child. In one scene Lina is touched inappropriately by a soldier. There is no sex in the text, though there are references to what is happening to the mother.
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