Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
By Ruta Sepetys
Publication date: March 22, 2011

My review:

Between Shades of Gray tells an important story that many readers would not be familiar with-Stalin's ethnic cleansing of Lithuania and other Baltic States. Thousands of people died during this time and the communist government hushed it up. For decades afterward, survivors couldn't even talk about their experiences for fear of being arrested but now author Ruta Sepetys, herself of Lithuanian descent, brings this very real tragedy to light in this fictional but moving tale.

The hardships that Lina and her family face are terrible but even in the midst of all their suffering there are moments of beauty and inspiring courage. Lina is a strong character with a compelling voice-she becomes a rock for her mother and brother even when she has her own doubts. She is determined to find a way for them to survive the labor camp and to be reunited with their father.

The descriptions of the capture and travel to the labor camps by cattle train are horrifying to read about as are their experiences of life once they arrive. The use of flashbacks to illustrate the way things were compared to Lina's present life adds emotional punch and helps us understand her and her family better. Lina's mother and brother are admirable for their ability to love and cope and hold fast to their beliefs despite the temptation to give in to the demands of their NKVD captors. While we only get to read about Lina's father Kostas in flashbacks, it is clear that she has also learned to be brave from him as well.

There are a lot of memorable side characters in this book too, some of whom are never even named but given descriptions like "the man who winds his watch" but they have an important part to play. One of my favorite characters is Andrius Arvydas the young Lithuanian man who befriends Lina and her family and encourages them when things are bad. Andrius makes Lina question some of her unfounded beliefs and prejudices as well. Like the title suggests, there are shades of gray to people and circumstances, a lesson Lina learns over the course of the book. Some of the characters on the surface seem to have nothing positive about them but there is goodness hidden in their hearts while others are capable of great cruelty-sometimes survival means making hard decisions.

Between Shades of Gray is an unforgettable novel that leaves readers with the message that just when things seem impossibly bleak, there is hope.

Readalikes: Letters From Rifka by Karen Hesse, The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Night by Elie Wiesel (memoir), The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman (memoir)


  1. This sounds like such a powerful and important read. We are currently reading Anne Frank with my 8th grade class and I think this book would be a great supplement for the unit. Great review, Christina!

  2. I really need to read this book. I have read so many fabulous reviews about the story and I like how you made some comparisons with books like The Book Thief and Night, which are both favorites of mine. Great review!

  3. Wonderful review of this obviously very moving book. Definitely going on to my wishlist! Thanks for sharing.


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