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. (from GoodReads)
Review:When this book was first released, everyone was raving about it and I never actually knew what it was about. I knew the story was set during World War II, but that was about it. It wasn't my favorite novel, but I learned a lot about history which I enjoyed.
Between Shades of Gray is about how the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania (along with other Baltic states) and deported millions of their citizens for being enemies of the state. These citizens, like Lina's family, are forced into work camps, similar to the concentration camps under Hitler's regime. I always knew that Stalin killed millions of people during WWII and that his death rate is actually higher than Hitler's, but I never really understood what that meant. I definitely did not know that the Soviet Union deported Lithuanians, Latvians, and Finns. I feel like I'm learning so much more about history by reading, with this novel and with the Vel' d'hiv roundup in Sarah's Key. I love it!
I enjoyed Between Shades of Gray but I liked Out of the Easy better and thought that novel was better written. This book is Sepetys's first novel, so I can cut her some slack. For me at least, it was hard to get into the story of Between Shades of Gray. Even though it's written in first person, Lina's narration is almost detached and the reader is kept at a distance. Even though all these horrible things are happening to Lina and her family, I didn't feel many emotions while reading. I also read the books slowly and in small spurts and I think it would have been a better read in bigger chunks.
I liked most of the supporting characters, especially Andrius, Lina's brother and mother and even the ambiguous character of Kretzsky. I liked the little romance between Lina and Andrius and I was convinced throughout the whole book that Kretzsky was actually good though it was hard to tell. It was obvious that he was the guard that wasn't okay with what was happening but he still wasn't as nice as he could have been.
The setting was pretty exotic as most of the book takes place in Siberia! I can't even believe that people can actually travel there, let alone live and work there like Lina did. It was so cold and I hate the cold so I probably would not have survived that long winter.
I wished there was more to Between Shades of Gray because the ending is very abrupt. There's an epilogue but I would have liked to read a little more about Lina and what happened to her! We should have at least gotten a better conclusion. While it's not the best written book out there, Between Shades of Gray is definitely an interesting story about a topic that many people do not know much about! I would recommend it on that aspect alone.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from the library.
2011/Philomel Books/344 pages.