Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Lithuuanian WW2 novel

Between Shade of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, UK edition cover.

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Ruta Sepetys
Young Adult (YA), Romance, War
Publication Date:
7th April 2011

That morning, my brother’s life was worth a pocket watch . . .

One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle cars and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia.

An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope.

Lina hopes for her family.
For her country.
For her future.
For love – first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to loose . . .
Will hope keep Lina alive?

Rating: ****
(4 stars)

Below the blurb in my edition of the book is the following section of text:

Set in 1941, Between Shades of Gray is an extraordinary and haunting story based on first-hand family accounts and memories from survivors.

This is not the first fictional war story I have read, nor is it the first one based on a “true” account – for my A-Level (or was it AS?) English Literature I was obliged to devour several books and poems about World War II – nor is it even the first YA book with this theme I have read. What is new for me is the subject matter. This book is about the travesties that Russia under Stalin’s rule committed, particularly to the Baltic states – though the Lina and her family originate from Lithuania. It was an eye-opening read, as I honestly had no idea what happened in those states between 1941 and 1991 (it may have started earlier, I don’t know).

I went into this book half-knowing what to expect, and whilst the story was a gripping read I walked away from it disappointed. For me this novel lacked the emotions of other books in this genre – not once was I even close to tears because of the atrocities committed on the page. It was a good read though. From the first sentence I found myself compelled to read on. The protagonist, Lina, was an interesting mix of strength and vulnerability. I don’t remember her once stop fighting, stop hoping, or stop living through all 338 pages of narrative. Yet there are moments where she acts out, like the any fifteen year old girl, and these moments can reveal horrific ordeals that leave her reeling.

Sepetys’s intertwines the past and the present in her narrative through a series of flash-backs, triggered by events Lina experiences. I’m not a big fan of first person narration in a story, but in this instance I think it works – telling the story from Lina’s perspective gives means that Sepetys can tailor it for a YA audience. Yet I find there is something lacking from the narrative; a distance between the reader and the events being narrated. There is no real sense of urgency or horror evoked by the events Lina narrates, at least for me. As a reader I found this troubling, especially having been told that the story was based on real events.

For me, what earned this book four stars was its ending. After the story that Lina narrates I found the ending particularly apt. Sepetys leaves the reader with a sense of hope, but fails to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Potential readers may be interested to know that after the story Sepetys has written an authors note, and for those who want to explore the subject more she has listed the books which she used to write the novel. I think I may check this out in the future.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Second World War, and not just about the rise and fall of the Nazi party, then you should definitely give this book a go.

One thought on “Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

  1. Pingback: Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller « The Flutterby Room

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