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Friday, June 15, 2012

Between Shades of Gray Absorbing, But Gloomy, Distant

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When the Soviet secret police storm into her home late one night, 15-year-old Lina Vilkas can hardly contain her shock.  She's heard of other Lithuanians stolen away in the night, but those were criminals, rebels.  Lina's father teaches at the university—what could the Soviets possibly want with him?  And where is he, anyway?  No answers are given the family, only orders to Davai (Hurry)!  Like cattle, Lina, her mother, and her 10-year-old brother, Jonas, are herded at gunpoint into a truck.  It's a terrifying beginning to a harrowing journey that will take the Vilkas', along with other Lithuanian refugees, to an isolated labor camp in the frozen wastelands of Siberia.  

As WWII rages on, Lina knows her chances of rescue—even of survival—dwindle with every passing day.  Between the hard, physical labor, the malnutrition, the brutal guards, and the diseases that run rampant through the camp, people are dying right and left.  Lina refuses to be one of them.  She won't give up, especially not until she's found her father.  Using her remarkable drawing skills, she risks her life to document her experience in pictures and words.  She hopes they will someday reach her father, somehow tell the horrifying story of her imprisonment if she does not live to tell it.   

I've read lots of WWWII books, but none that dealt with the occupation of Lithuania.  Although Lina's story is similar to others about the Holocaust, it's different in its location, its time period (the novel begins on June 14, 1941) and the fact that Lina and most of the people deported with her are not Jewish.  Still, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is an affecting novel that, once again, brings home the horrors that occurred to innocent people during the war.  As you'd expect, it's a grim and gloomy tale, one that speaks of hope, but doesn't really deliver it.  Overall, I found the book gloomier than others of its type, with a narrator who felt a little distant to me (if that makes sense).  Between Shades of Gray is, no doubt, an absorbing read—it's just not as powerful as other WWII stories I've read.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other WWII books, like The Diary of Anne Frank; Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum; Rutka's Notebook; The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne; etc.)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence, sexual innuendo, and mature subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. Hmmmm...doesnt sound like a good book to read when depressed.

  2. Hmmm, now I don't know whether to read it or not. I'm not a big fan of prison camp stories so maybe not.

    1. This is definitely a prison camp story. It's not as graphic as some I've read, but it still talks about disease, violence, starvation, etc. -- things that are always hard to read about.

  3. I was mesmerized by this book -- yes it was bleak and brutal, but well written. Thought the ending was abrupt...but one of the better ones I've read this year.

    1. It was definitely well-written, I agree. And, YES, what was up with that ending? Totally abrupt.

  4. I agree with Melissa that the book is mesmerizing. I found the content bleak and depressing, but the storytelling was not. There was a theme of love repeated over and over that helped lift it.

    1. I'm wondering if I was just expecting a lot more from it because I'd heard so much hype. Because it wasn't a bad book, not at all, it just wasn't as affecting as other prison camp stories I've read. And, you're right, the theme of loving (not just family and friends, either, but even those who are selfish, unpleasant, and wrong) was prevalent and made the book worth reading.

  5. I've had this one on my shelf forever it seems. I need to get to it.

    1. It's worth a read. It just didn't quite live up to the hype for me. Obviously, it did for lots of other people, though ...

  6. I absolutely loved this book. I didn't feel that Lina was too distant, but I agree the ending was abrupt and that there really isn't much hope. But that made it feel authentic to me because I'm sure it was hard to hope when enduring all that.

    1. Maybe that's why I didn't absolutely love it -- too real.

  7. I read this a while ago, so I don't quite remember it as well. But if you're looking for another WW2 book that is really good read The Book Thief. I LOVE this book it's beautiful and insightful.


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