Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books; March 22, 2011
Hardcover, 344 pages
Borrowed from library

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.

- Description from

I'm a sucker for historical fictions and so I was ecstatic when my quasi-book club picked this for this summer's read. I have close to no knowledge about Stalin and the Soviet Union so I was really excited to learn something. This book was not only educational, it was enjoyable.

Ruta Sepetys' writing in Between Shades of Gray is incredibly detailed, almost as if she were retelling the story as it happened to her. This made it easy for me to understand, even just a little, what the deportees were going through. I give kudos to her for being able to include so many different scenarios that the deportees had to face during such a grim period. She really showed the reader a vast range of the outcomes the people under Stalin's rule faced without straying too far from the central storyline.

Lina's flashbacks were another thing I liked about this book. They provided great background to Lina's story that we wouldn't have otherwise been able to learn. The flashbacks also helped build up Lina's character. As you read on, your understanding of her grows. By the end, I was totally hooked by her and I didn't want her story to end.

There's no doubt that Ruta Sepetys is a master storyteller. Between Shades of Gray was wonderfully crafted and yet, for me, I just wasn't feeling it. Something about the book came a bit short for me. But even so, I don't have to hesitate to claim this is one of my favourite historical fictions ever.


  1. Usually I'd shy away from books with flashbacks because they're so confusing and horribly done sometimes, but it's a relief that you liked that aspect in this one. Honestly, I've heard nothing but great things for Ruta's books that it's getting me intrigued. And the part where you called her a "master storyteller" helps, too. Glad you enjoyed this one, Annie! Lovely review. :)

  2. I admit, the flashbacks took some time getting used to. At first, they popped up in random places but after a while, I really enjoyed seeing them. They broke up the rhythm of the book and that was nice. Seriously, this is a great book! You should totally read it!