Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA historical fiction
Pub. date: March 22, 2011

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. -Goodreads

"Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?”

When was the last time you heard of those small Baltic countries beside Russia? You know, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland? Most don’t even know these countries exist. Is anyone aware of the horrors they had to endure at the hands of the Soviets, how they were brutally forced out of their homes and forced into cramped, disease-ridden labor camps all over the USSR? Maybe, but thanks to the media, it is made out to be a seemingly insignificant event in the great scheme of things.

"We’ll soon be back in our homes. When the rest of the world finds out what the Soviets are doing, they will put an end to all of this.

Would they?”

This book reports the events a Lithuanian girl, Lina, and her family had to go through. They starved, they suffered, they were forced to overwork, and they had absolutely no freedom.

Between Shades of Gray is not for the weak. It contains detailed, often gruesome depictions of the everyday lives of these victims. They were treated worse than animals by the cold, indifferent NKVD.

Each and every character in this book affected me in one way or another. They each had their own stories which were painful to read about.


"There were only two possible outcomes in Siberia. Success meant survival. Failure meant death. I wanted life. I wanted to survive."

Fifteen-year-old Lina is the narrator of this story. To convey her thoughts and feelings, she drew pictures, and wrote, despite Communists and their strict adherence to censorship. The fact that Lina is my age and forced to endure these immense struggles, and remained strong, evoked this soulful feeling from me. Her courage and hope are palpable through her writings.

Jonas is Lina’s ten-year-old brother. Because of all the horrors he witnessed, it is noticeable how much he is forced to mature over the course of the novel.


“Andrius, I'm...scared."

He stopped and turned to me. "No. Don't be scared. Don't give them anything Lina, not even your fear.”

It can be claimed that the story of Andrius and Lina is a love story, but it is so much more than that. They pick each other up when they fall, they support each other, they give the other the strength to keep going. This is what true love is.

"Sometimes there is such beauty in awkwardness. There’s love and emotion trying to express itself, but at the time, it just ends being awkward.”

The writing
Lina’s narration is straight to the point. It is detailed enough to help us envision these scenes in our heads, but not overly descriptive.

I could say that I cried. A lot. But after a while, these all-consuming sobs kind of disappeared, leaving behind a heavy weight on my heart that causes my throat to choke up whenever I so much as think of this book.

There is a difference between reading these historical events out of a textbook, and reading them from a more personal POV. Which is why this book is so necessary in today’s screwed-up world; it affects people much more on an emotional level, instead of just filling our heads with facts.

Books like these are under appreciated in the present day. We need more of these types of books, these books that open our eyes to the rest of the world. As an American, I am spoiled. When I see all these horrid events –wars, starvation, oppressive governments- I feel like I am such a sheltered girl in comparison to these victims in third-world countries. The problems we have to go through are nothing compared to the less-fortunate people.

Like the author said, Between Shades of Gray was not written for pity. It was written for people to do something about this and try to bring change to the world. Places like the Gaza Strip, Syria, Darfur, Nigeria; all these places are suffering while we are sitting on our butts complaining about stupid issues. But after reading this, it gave me motivation to speak up, to help.

Don’t hesitate. Read this book. I guarantee it will change your view of the world and will affect you in ways you hadn’t anticipated.

5 Stars!


  1. Your review is absolutely beautiful. It is spot on in so many ways! I couldn't agree more. This book also made me realize how sheltered I am and how lucky I am to have what I have.

    1. Thank you so much! :D Exactly; this book helps us appreciate more because, really, we don't have it that hard in comparison to people like Lina.

  2. You can take Finland off that list. This isn't the story of Finland. Finns fought three wars during WWII but were never occupied or under the Soviet rule. Though ethnic Finns living in the Soviet Union had already been persecuted similarly since the early 1930's.