Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

72741624Lynn: 15-year-old Lina is a gifted artist from a loving family looking forward to an exciting future in Between Shades of Gray (Penguin 2011).  But it is 1941 in Lithuania and in the middle of the night, Soviet soldiers storm into her home, seize her and her family and force them onto trains packed with masses of other terrified people.  It is Stalin’s plan to eliminate any potential opposition to his land grab and whole families are sentenced to 25 years of forced labor in the most horrifying of conditions.  Lina’s story, based on historical events, chronicles the tortuous experience  faced by millions, yet it is a story largely unknown here.  Starvation, brutal cold, unremitting cruelty and the death of so many make this a harrowing but important book.  It is also the story of love, sacrifice and immense courage .  Sepetys does not spare the reader and at times I had to put this book down for a space before I could go on.  The many individuals sharing Lina’s struggle are clearly described and multi-dimensional – humanity with all its warts and glories and I came to care deeply for many of them.  Sharp cameos still stand out for me like the young mother literally dragged from the delivery of her baby still in her hospital gown or the amazing optimism of Lina’s mother who kept everyone going with her sheer goodness.  This is a book for our older teens and one they will find impossible to forget.

Cindy: Books like this always make me feel weak and soft. I mean, I complain about being cold when we turn down the thermostat a few notches to save money…I can’t imagine a Siberian winter with snow blowing in through the holes in my walls (that I had to erect myself) and sleeping on a wood plank without pillow or blanket after working all day outside to earn the ration of a small piece of bread. And then there’s the hunger. I feel guilty for having a full refrigerator and pantry. I know that I could not survive like the heroes I read about in books like this one. Our eighth graders study Anne Frank and many are motivated each year to read more Holocaust memoirs and novels, and other genocide books. This will certainly be one to add to the mix. We’ve all heard about people being sent to Siberia for punishment, but I’ve known little about the circumstances or the conditions behind that sentence. Sepetys paints the horrific portrait for us and the blog is a few days late because, like Lynn, I kept having to put the book down and recover before continuing on (I told you I am weak and soft). Because the Lithuanian forced evacuation is unfamiliar to most students, the history and details had to be woven into the story, and early on there were some places where that seemed a little forced. The haunting story draws you in, though, and you do grow to care for these people, even some of the Russian soldiers who are following cruel orders. I am fascinated by the courage and perseverance of people who, under the most adverse situations, still find the energy and the passion to record their stories…their history. Whether in art or journals or some other format, we are richer as a people for this unselfish sharing. And that goes for authors who find and share little known stories from our history. Don’t miss this one.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

4 Comments on "Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys"

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  1. Angela.Craft@gmail.com' Angela says:

    Just finished this one today – actually started it today, too. Unputdownable. The only break I took (aside from work) was to eat dinner, and felt so guilty looking at my plate of food when my head was still in Altai. You’ll also have to pull this one out when you do your Sob-O-Meter display – I was totally in tears at the end.

  2. Oh, Angela, you are so right. I just added the SOB! tag to the post. Good call.

  3. mattinglylianna@yahoo.com' lianna says:

    only on chapter 8 and love it

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