May 16, 2012

Review: Between Shades of Gray

By: Ruta Sepetys
Published: March 2011 by Philomel Books
Format: Hardcover, 341 pages
First Reviewed: March 2011
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
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Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.

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.

Rating: 5/5

You'll have to forgive me because I don't know how to put my thoughts on this into words. I really don't. I'm still sitting here thinking about what I just spent the day reading. For some reason, I knew before I got this that it was going to be emotional and true and krasivaya--I won't tell you want that means. You'll have to read the book to find out--but this surpassed my expectations. This book is one of the most powerful depictions of this history I've ever read. You know what, no, it's one of the most--if not the most--powerful books I've ever read. Period.

From the very first line, I already became emotional. Learning about this anyway has always tugged at me, but there's something different in reading a story, where Sepetys had woven in scenes from actual survivors. Knowing this happened to millions of people...there's just no words.

The writing is simple, but beautiful. It's choppy, but judging by Sepetys's beautiful prose, I know it's on purpose, and it not only added to the story, but added to Lina, our narrator. She saw the world as the young artist she was. And the characterization felt so real. Every single last character felt real, which only added to the power of the story.

I read this book much slower than normal because I wanted to digest everything as much as possible, which I think is a must. Honestly, I can't tell you how much I cried during this. It's the most emotional book I've ever read, but it's also the most uplifting. Seeing the strength burst through these people, seeing the heart they carried, and seeing their will to live even after the unthinkable happens to them day after day, just...gosh, it just makes you see how strong humans can be.

People survived ten to fifteen years in work camps, in the freezing Arctic. They don't teach this enough in schools. They just don't. I was fortunate enough to learn about Stalin and what he did, but never like this. Ruta Sepetys may have written this book, but it's from all of those who survived, and those who didn't. It's a lost story. Vivid, truthful, emotional, and beyond krasivaya. I'm not going to sit here and yell at you to read this like I would for some kind of commercial book, but I'm going to ask you to. Please read this. Please remember. Please tell this story.

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