Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they 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, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Lina is a great character. All of them are great characters. Lina's mother is the thread that holds them all together. She is intelligent, compassionate, strong, and fearless. I love seeing characters like her in stories. Lina and her companions do what they can to remain strong, to seek out small hopes where they can get them, and to survive. They even find a sense of humor in their situation at various intervals. Lina spends her spare time documenting events in drawings and writings, scribbling them down on scraps of paper with whatever she can use to draw and then hiding them away so that they won't be discovered by the wrong people, hoping that her story will one day be told and that people will know what happened. I became truly invested in them and cared about what their fates would be.
The plot takes Lina and the other deportees from place to place, through various forms of transport and labor camps. Every day is a struggle for survival and hope. The pacing isn't really fast, but I found that I read it quickly and couldn't put it down because I was so interested in what would happen to Lina next and in seeing what would become of her and her loved ones. There are some sad parts, obviously, and disturbing ones. Sepetys handles the scenes which convey sadness, desperation, and horrific events without becoming unnecessarily grotesque; enough is said to put things into perspective for the reader, but it is done in a style that is matter-of-fact and not more descriptive than it needs to be in order to connect with the reader and to get the point across.
Between Shades of Gray is a must-read. Most of the WWII literature I have come across deals with the Holocaust or with the war itself, which are important topics - and often discussed. At best, I was only vaguely aware of these events that took place under Stalin. I knew he did horrible things, but I've never read about them in great detail, partly because a lot of them were performed in secret. It is important that we know what people like Lina went through, and that we do not forget.