Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys
Published: 22 March 2011
Philomel Books, Hardcover, 344 pages
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they 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, 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?
Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit.
I feel bad for even rating this book. Personally, it feels like something that shouldn’t be taken apart and analyzed too much because judging it in any way really makes me feel like an awful human being. Between Shades of Gray is a brutal and heartrending story about Stalin’s Reign of Terror in the USSR, namely how it impacted the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Lina Vilkas, the protagonist, is an artsy and pretty normal girl who was arrested with her family in the middle of the night in June 1941. The plot follows her as she travels across Russia with her younger brother and mother, clinging onto the hope of seeing her father again. The trials Lina went through on her long journey were violent and it utterly tore my heart apart how humans can be treated as things worst than pests by the Soviets. Here’s a quote to show how horrifying it was:
“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”
Honestly, I feel terrible for ever getting bored during History lessons after reading this book, especially when the topic of Communist Russia & the USSR was being taught. It amazes me how textbook creators can put such tragic events into emotionless facts when so many innocent lives had been lost.
Ruta Sepetys is absolutely admirable in bringing the cruel acts of Stalin to light in all its ugliness. Though the events portrayed in Between Shades of Gray were tragic and heart-breaking, the tone of the story told from Lina’s point of view was so filled with hope, love, life and perseverance, the story felt more light than dark.
As for those of you wondering if there is romance in this book, the answer is yes. It is not the main point, however, and is beautifully finespun and innocent. Andrius and Lina… I can’t even express how exquisite everything about them was. The bottom line is, he had feelings for her despite the fact that she had lice and was practically skin and bones, if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
Moving on to the ending of the book… it killed me. I knew that numerous deaths were to be expected but that did not make reading about it any easier. Lina suffered way too much than anyone her age should. After all, when I was 15, I had been complaining about school, hanging with friends and reading my life away instead of having to fight to stay alive every single day.
All in all, Between Shades of Gray is a spectacular novel about life and love in the worst of situations. It showed the strength of humans and the will to live in Lina and all the others in her situation. I would recommend this to simply everyone. The world needs to know what happened to all those people. Trust me when I say it is utterly moving and really makes you appreciate the freedom you have right now. Do prepare lots of tissue at the end!
P.S. Here’s a video I found about the book. I watched it after I read the book and had such a hard time holding back my tears.