Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys

Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys

Summary: 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.

This book was...heartbreakingly beautiful. That's the best way I can think to describe it. The writing, the characters -- it was just amazing.

I want to talk about the characters, but I don't even know what to say about them. They were all realistic, flawed, brilliant and awful in their own ways and I cared about them as if they were real (or in some cases, hated them as if they were real).

Reading the book knowing that, although these characters are fictional, these things actually happened is like a heavy feeling in your heart as you turn the pages.

Sometimes it's easy to read a book knowing it's just a story...you get caught up in it, you care about the characters, but when you finish the last page, you can still be comforted by the knowledge that they're just characters, it isn't real. But this was real. Real people were put through this, maybe not these specific characters in the book, but it still happened. Stalin did have all of these innocent people deported and treated like criminals - worse than criminals...they were treated like they were less than human.

Because of that, when you finish that last page, there isn't that reassurance that it's just a story. And the book was so much more powerful and had a much bigger impact because of that.

The book really made me think, too. About all of the people in situations like this. It seems like a black and white issue; good and bad. But even the Soviet soldiers were people and yes, some of them were genuinely awful...but some of them, maybe they were just scared or brainwashed to believing they were doing what was right for their families, their people, and their country. It's easy to view the Soviets as monsters, but it's not that simple, there's this gray area.

I like that the story made me think about that more, there was a specific scene in the book that made me really realise that and also made me love the main character even more, because of the compassion she showed in that moment.

It made me wonder what I would have done. If I was on the Russian side of things, would I have given into that cruelty out of fear? If I was one of the people being deported, would I have been strong or weak? Would I have lived or died, would I have had enough will to live to keep fighting for life? Would I be too proud to go to extremes just to stay alive in the hell they were put in? I genuinely don't know.

I love books that make me think.

When I was finished, I closed the book, calmly set it down in front of me and then just sat there numb for a few minutes. Then I cried; for the characters, for the real people that these horrible things actually happened to...I have so much respect for the people that survived and sympathy for the ones that didn't.

The only negative thing about the book I can think of is the ending. On one hand, the ending was beautiful and well done...but, it left too many strings left untied, too many questions unanswered and in a book like this, not having those answers matters more. If she wrote another book about what happened in the time jump between the last chapter and the epilogue, then that would be awesome, because it would give the closure that the ending of this book didn't bring.

But even that negative thing links back to how amazing the book was...if it wasn't such a good book, then I wouldn't care so much about what happened to the characters and all of the hows and whens and whys of how they got the ending that they did.

I'll stop rambling now, this review turned into more me talking about what the book made me think about than the book itself, oops. But yeah, the book was amazing and I really recommend it, it's a story that deserves to be known.


p.s. Being the cover-whore that I am, this has to be mentioned, the cover is gorgeous. :)


  1. This is something I have to go check out now after reading your review! It sounds so emotional and the cover does look amazing!

    *I was following your blog but i'm not sure why I'm not anymore. Blogger glitch? But I fixed that so I'm a new-ish follower :)

  2. OOH I thought this would be good. Awesome review!

  3. Finished this last night. I felt exactly the same. This book is something that I'd remember for a long time.



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