Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Between Shades of Gray

Summary: 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.
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.

15 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Your review is wonderful. You know how much I loved this book. I sent my copy to my mom and we had a long conversation about how the events that are portrayed in this book affected members of my family. She told me some things I don't remember hearing before.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I have yet to see a bad review for this book. The Diary Of Anne Frank is a book I read as a child that has always stayed with me. This book sounds like a book that would stay with me also. Another one for my must read list! Great review.

Beth Hoffman said...

My goodness, between you and Kathy there's no question that I must read this book! Terrific review, Julie.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I just read a review of this today in the Wall Street Journal that also raved about it!

Karlie said...

Sounds like another must read! Good thing I have you to give me book ideas :)

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I am so lucky to have an ARC already -- what a lovely book!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Entertainment Weekly gave it a big thumbs up too. That video that Kathy included on her interview with the author is amazing...everyone should watch it. This one is high, high, high on my list.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I absolutely, absolutely loved this book, too - I still think about it. And I agree with you about Lina's mother - I think she was one of my favorite characters as well. I loved, loved this book!

Amy said...

I think it takes a very talented writer to tell a story involving so much violence and brutality and bring out and show us the hope and love that exists in the lives of the people in the book ultimately giving us a beautiful story. I loved your review and I can tell how much this book impacted you.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts now. I know this is a book I want to read soon.

Beth F said...

I heard you raving about this on Twitter and now I've read your fantastic review. I will definitely have to read this. Wow.

by michele young-stone said...

OMG. I will definitely be reading this one. Ironically enough, my third novel, now in progress, takes place partially in Lithuania when Stalin's soldiers begin murdering intellectuals and landowners and forcing people into boxcars en route to labor camps. I can't wait to read this one! In my third book, the son escapes Stalin, to later march to Germany where he spends WWII. The story moves back and forth between 1940 Lithuania and 1989 Northern Florida, where his granddaughter, who looks like one of his lost sisters, lives.

April said...

Great review - I can't wait to read this one!

Aths said...

I'm so glad you loved this. I can't wait to check it out!

Swapna said...

I have heard so many amazing things about this book - I need to keep an eye out for it!

Anna said...

I just put myself on hold for this book at the library. After all the emotional reviews, I just had to get my hands on a copy. Sounds like a part of WWII you don't hear about too much; what the Soviets did seems to be overshadowed by the Nazis. I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.