Friday, March 25, 2011
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. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart. -- Philomel
I debated saving my review for BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys for a future Kid Konnection post (it's technically classified as Young Adult), but I decided that I adored this book so much that I didn't want to wait to share my thoughts with you. I thought this novel was amazing! I was blown away by how much this book affected me... and is still affecting me. I'm afraid that I'm not going to be able to articulate myself very well because not only do I want to gush about this book, but I was also so deeply touched by the story that it's hard for me to compose myself enough to write.
There truly are so many wonderful things about this novel that I'm probably only going to be able to skim the surface in this review. (That means that you have to read this book yourself to get the full appreciation of it!) I was extremely impressed with the character development, the storyline, and especially the author's writing style. Everything just seemed to work perfectly in this novel.
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY tells the story of Lina, a 15 year old Lithuanian girl who, along with her mother and brother, is deported to Siberia in 1941. The book begins with their removal from their home and follows their horrific travels to Siberia as well as many of the years they spent at a Soviet labor camp. The story is told in Lina's voice and includes many flashbacks of her normal life prior to the evacuation. Needless to say, this novel is deeply disturbing just based on the subject matter alone. I cried quite a few times and I even had that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach for much of the time.
However, and this is a big however, as horrific as the events were that Lina's family experienced, I thought this book was beautiful.... and showed the power of love and hope. I loved Lina -- for her strength and her resilience and her courage and especially her ability to share her story through words and art. She was an amazing young girl and one that I won't soon forget, and I thought the author did a remarkable job of capturing her essence.
In addition to Lina, I thought many of the supporting characters were interesting. I truly appreciated how the author showed the complexities of the characters' lives and the different ways people coped (and weren't able to cope) with this horrific situation. I don't want to give too much away, but I loved how Lina learned to "see past the surface" of many of the people she encountered during her time at the labor camp. For example, Andrius and his mother, the Soviet soldier, and the grumpy bald man all demonstrated that their actions weren't black and white -- that their behavior lies somewhere "between shades of gray."
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the character of Lina's mother. While she wasn't the main character (and it wasn't her story), she was my absolute favorite character in the entire book. Maybe it's because I am a mother and her entire ordeal hit a little closer to home for me, but I thought she epitomized everything wonderful about a mother's love. Not only did she stay strong for her children as well as deeply sacrifice for them, she just demonstrated through her daily actions how to live a life with so much grace.
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY would make a marvelous book club pick. In fact, I'm pretty sure this one is going to be making appearances at many book clubs over the next few years -- kind of like THE BOOK THIEF. The author has a great page on her website devoted to book clubs. You will find a listing of the various themes for discussion which appear in the book as well as some extremely thought-provoking discussion questions. I am so excited about this reader's guide because it's just so good and it's appropriate for teens and adults alike! Some of the concepts that you might want to delve into include persecution, war, survival, determination, perseverance, fear, courage, memory, art, sacrifice, and the will to live. These are all fascinating to think about in their own right, but what I also loved most about the guide is that it included some questions about the literary aspects of the novel. For example, there is a question about how a certain character acts as a catalyst for Lina's actions.
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is a beautiful book and one that I will be strongly recommending to everyone I know. It's one of those stories that will not only touch your heart but quite possibly change the way you live your life.
Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this very special novel.