Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Release Date: March 22, 2011 
Publisher: Philomel Books 
Source: 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

Currently listening to: Bleeding Out by Imagine Dragons 

Between Shades of Gray is a hard book to review because I feel like there are two sides to this book. One said would deal with the lack of overall plot and character development while the other would deal with the historical context of this book. In all, I think Ruta Sepetys' debut Between Shades of Gray was perfect for the history lover in me but disappointing to the reader in me.

Really, there is no plot to Between Shades of Gray if you look at it. It's basically the story of Lena and her family's relocation from Lithuania to Siberia, as Stalin's forces grow stronger. While many historical fiction books I've seen have a plot where the character goes from point A to point B, this book doesn't do that. It's simply an account of a fictional girl based on actual fact. Or maybe it was just me? I didn’t see the “plot” in the general sense of the word. Of course, the ordeals Lena’s family faces could be considered the plot but it’s a muddled idea.

I’m going to take a moment to say that I actually did know about Stalin’s bloody regime (he killed more than 20 million people) and the disappearance of the Baltic countries (they became part of the Soviet Union after Hitler and Stalin signed an agreement) during this time. While my history teacher is to thank for this a little, I remember my 7th grade social studies teacher giving us one country in Europe for which we had to do a project. One of my close friends took Lithuania and she talked about the genocide and movement. But this book right here made the history nerd in me very happy. This might sound weird but I loved the maps and the routes taken by the people. For some reason, seeing the maps, reading this book, made it all seem more real. As if these terrible things did happen; they did affect people, no matter how much I wished it hadn’t happened. So many of the emotions in this book were honest and real and there were many universal themes: love, hope, and courage.

Lena was a character I both loved but also disliked. I didn’t hate her at all but I don’t think she developed as much as I had hoped. Sure, by the end there were changes to her character but overall, I think she stayed the same. While I will not deny that I almost cried reading this book and I truly felt for Lena, this is a book and I was a little disappointed.

The writing on the other hand was pretty much the most amazing part. Ruta Sepetys’ writing style is very lyrical and beautiful. Yet the writing wasn’t dense in the way that reading the book was a bore or felt like a chore (hey, rhyming!) Instead, the words flew off the pages and within an hour, I had finished this book.

Overall, the lack of plot and character development did effect how much I loved Between Shades of Gray. On the other hand, the historical aspect of this novel made up for whatever this book lacked. Honestly, I think everyone should read this book. It’s heartbreaking and cringe worthy. At times, I wanted to convince myself that such things didn’t happen in reality but the pure honesty of this book proved that I should truly be thankful for all that I have. Ruta Sepetys has become a favorite author with this book!
Cover Comments: 
It's so simply and beautiful and such a great representation of the book. Oh, how I love this cover!