Debbie's World of Books
My book reviews, book news & random rants

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

March 18th, 2011 by Debbie's World of Books

Source: Picked up at ALA Midwinter

Publication date: March 22, 2011

Publisher: Philomel Books

Summary from

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.

It’s been a long time since a book has touched me as much as this one has.  I stayed up late to finish it and even though I was so tired I could not fall asleep for awhile because I could not stop thinking about the story.  The story was haunting and heartbreaking.

I have read The Diary of Anne Frank  several times and in fact just re-read it this year and I’m sure that is one of the most well known accounts from a victim of the Holocaust and really helped put a face on the victims.  I felt like this book did the same for me about the victims of Stalin’s deportations.  This topic was something that I studied when I took Russian in high school and Russian History in college but I did not truly feel the horrors these people went through during Stalin’s reign.  It’s made all the worse when you read that Sepetys based some of the events in the book from stories that actual survivors recounted to her.

The story is told from the point of view of Lina and the passages alternate between what is happening to her in the present and happier memories from her past.  Through her observations we see how different people reacted to their circumstances.  Some were defeated and gave up all hope where as others were determined to survive whatever the Soviets did to them.  The circumstances brought out such acts of depravity and at the same time unbelievable depths of kindness from unexpected sources that you have to wonder how would you react in their positions.

If you have never read about the re-locations that Stalin ordered of the native people of countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and other countries that the Soviet Union annexed then you have to read this book.  The writing was entrancing and will keep you glued to the book until the very end.  It’s really hard to put into words just how amazing this book is but I highly recommend it to everyone. I’d even go so far as to say if there is only one book you will read this year, this should be it.

Posted in 5 Star Books, Books, Historical Fiction

6 Responses

  1. Pam (@iwriteinbooks)

    Oh man oh man I loved this book! Sometimes I like books that no one else seems to but I’m always pleased when I find that the books I love are big hits with everyone else, too. This really is an amazing, emotional story. Glad you loved it!

  2. Pam

    This is a fantastic book. Glad you loved it.

  3. Debbie's World of Books

    Pam (@iwriteinbooks)-I often seem to like books no one else does and dislike books everyone else raves about so nice to know others agree with me on this one :)

    Pam-one of my favorite reads.

  4. C. Lee McKenzie

    The summary is a real heart grabber. Must read. Absolutely. Thanks.

  5. Michelle

    I picked this one up at ALA in DC this summer and haven’t yet gotten to it. I keep seeing rave reviews though. I’ve definitely got to get to reading it.

  6. Debbie's World of Books

    Hope you like it C. Lee!
    Michelle-I know, I’ve had it since ALA midwinter & just never was in much of a rush to read it. So glad I finally picked it up.

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