Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
Ruta Sepetys
2011; Philomel; ISBN 978-0-399-25412-3 (hardcover)

Summary: Lina has her whole life ahead of her.  She has art classes, spending time with her cousin, and even a first date.  But then her homeland of Lithuania is invaded by the Soviet Union, and she becomes a criminal in the eyes of the Soviets.  Her father, a university official, is arrested, and the rest of Lina's family--her mother, her little brother Jonas, and Lina--are sent on a slow, horrific journey to Siberia.  They suffer horribly, facing starvation, sickness, and heartbreak.  Lina uses her art to keep her hopes up of seeing her father again, of surviving the camps, and reuniting her family in Lithuania.  But is art and hope enough to survive the brutal Siberian winter?

In sparse, moving prose, a little-known piece of history is examined in Between Shades of Gray.  After the Soviet invasion in 1941, thousands of Lithuanians--doctors, teachers, lawyers, librarians, anyone considered anti-revolutionary--were subjected to inhumane treatment and outright murder.  Ruta Sepetys vividly brings to life the people who did everything to resist the Soviets' attempts at destroying their spirits.  Lina slowly matures, learning to have compassion and hope in spite of her hardships.  Lina's mother, elegant and saintly, is an example to anyone facing mistreatment.  Other characters like Jonas and Andrius, Lina's friend and romantic interest, serve as other approaches to dealing with persecution.  Sepetys, the daugher of a Lithuanian who managed to escape the fate of Lina's family, crafts a story about people facing darkness with the light of hope.  Pair Between Shades of Gray with a novel of the Holocaust, like The Devil's Arithmetic, to begin a conversation about human suffering and endurance.

I was lucky enough to have Ruta be a speaker during my presentation at the 2010 YA Literature Symposium, and it was a great pleasure to read the novel that was based on the stories and research she shared during that presentation.  To find out more about this novel, visit the book's official website.

Other Reviews
Reading Rants: http://www.readingrants.org/2011/03/25/between-shades-of-gray-by-ruta-sepetys/
Frenetic Reader: http://www.freneticreader.com/2011/03/between-shades-of-gray-by-ruta-sepetys.html
Thirst for Fiction: http://www.thirstforfiction.com/authors/ruta-sepetys/between-shades-of-gray
Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703899704576204593064733376.html

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