Friday, January 3, 2014
Between Shades of Gray: A review
Info: Philomel Books, copyright 2011, 344 pages
A review in 10 words (or thereabouts): A heartbreaking tale of courage, love, and the resilience of the human spirit at the hands of unthinkable evil.
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.
When you think of WWII, on any front, you think of military operations and vicious dictators seeking supremacy and cultural cleansing. It's a human story. Sepetys excels at shining a light on the horrors of this historical moment while telling a real, intense, personal tale of a young girl filled with anger and unbelievable talent who is trying to find a away to survive. Despite the death and destruction that the Soviets leave in their wake, Between Shades of Gray is a story of hope and love. Flashback snippets intertwined keep the story moving and grounded, and short chapters makes this a fast paced easy read, even for reluctant readers.
I finished this book too late in the evening. This was a terrible idea. When I turned out the light to sleep, I felt haunted. Lina's fear had seeped into my very being. I laid in bed for a good hour trying to turn off my head and stop the images of the arctic from flashing behind my eyes.
The first book I remember picking out for myself in middle school to read for fun was set during the Holocaust. I clearly remember my mother reading the blurb on the inside of the front cover and telling me that this wasn't going to be a happy book. I might get upset. I assured her I would be fine and dove right in. The next day I sat in the stands at one of my brother's baseball games reading voraciously. And then I was crying uncontrollably. My mother put her arm around me while I sobbed, "Why did you let me read this?" Between Shades of Gray affected me in pretty much the same manor. Sobbing. Anger. Then fury. But in the end, there is an unbelievable feeling of resilience and calm. Thank goodness I wasn't born in a different time or place where men could knock on my door, force me out of my home, and change my world forever.
Ruta Sepetys, you are a writing force.