Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Source: Won
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?
This is one of those books that everyone should read.  I have to admit that I wasn't sure if I'd have the right frame of mind to pick this one up and read it, and initially was determined to skip over it when looking through my review books.  I often try to avoid books on topics like this one, because it is difficult to bring myself to read about suffering on a scale such as this.  But I am so, so glad that I picked this up and read it.  And once I started it, I couldn't put it down.

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. 


  1. It's definitely good to see a book that deals with events not of the Holocaust because while the Holocaust was important, it wasn't the whole war.

    Sniffly Kitty
    Sniffly Kitty's Mostly Books

  2. Wow thanks for the review. I will add this one to my list. I enjoy books like this. There is so much history involved.

  3. Thanks for this review. I will put "Between Shades of Gray" on my "to read" list.

    I agree....we should know so that we do not forget. The Holocaust gets all the attention though millions of Christians were slaughtered by Stalin (most estimate that more Christians were killed by Stalin than Jews by Hitler)
    Communist and Socialist regimes...political dictators.... Yes, we should read books like this so we will not forget. Another good book of this nature is "The Gendarme" by Mark T. Mustian which is about the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottoman empire in the early 20th century.


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