Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
So, let me say this one time so we can move on: This is not that Shades of Gray. Admittedly, this book suffers from an unfortunate title, but don’t let that sway you from this gem of a book.
In BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY we meet 15 year old Lina, who is separated from her father and forced to board a train to a labor camp in Stalin-era Lithuania. We all know Stalin wasn’t a nice guy, but I honestly had no idea just how bad life was under his regime until reading this book. It was so bad, that the poor Lithuania’s prayed for Hitler to march in and rescue them from Stalin’s grip!
Lina’s story is powerful on so many levels. Her strength and determination to survive the harshest conditions was inspiring, all while protecting her little brother and keeping a watchful eye on her mother. And always, the question about her father. Was he out there somewhere? If he was, Lina was determined to find him.
But amid all the horrors, there were some tender moments that tugged at my heart. The handsome boy who risked so much to steal a book for Lina on her birthday. The mother who, Lina discovered, had spare clothes in her traveling bag but refused to wear them, even in the freezing cold, because she wanted to save them for when she’d go home. And the ability to hold on to hope even in the darkest, coldest, place.
While the protagonist is fifteen, I would recommend this book to a mature middle grade reader. The writing style, with short chapters and very matter of fact language, would appeal to a middle grade reader. The subject matter, at times, is difficult, but the author does not include violence for the sake of violence, but rather to convey the reality of the time.
My one complaint is I felt the ending was somewhat abrupt. I felt there was more of the story to tell and I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to Lina. Nevertheless, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is an important story and highly recommended.