Quite honestly I probably never would have chosen to read Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys if it had not been chosen as a contender in the SLJ BoBs. Even after my friend Betsy (of Literaritea) read it and said it was a good read I remained stubborn (and I trust her opinion of books implicitly). I am glad that I was finally pushed into reading it. It is a powerful story about events in history that are not discussed often enough.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
Stalin's deportation of nationals from the Baltic countries the USSR invaded to Siberian work communes is a portion of history largely overlooked in most high school history classes. It is often mentioned tangentially to Holocaust studies, if it is mentioned at all. Neither my AP US or my AP European teachers ever even brought it up. Shades of Gray is a novel that can get a discussion on the subject started. It is a story full of powerful scenes and vivid imagery, such as: Used to what, the feeling of uncontrolled anger? Or a sadness so deep, like your very core has been hollowed out and fed back to you from a dirty bucket? Talk about a simile. The text and plot most definitely pack a punch and show the reader into a world they never want to experience. I like the added touch of including Lina's flashbacks to the past in each chapter. The flashbacks correlated with the content of the chapter and contrasted the privilege of her former life to the horror of her current one. Lina herself remained distant to me though. As I read the book I felt more like I was watching a documentary and not experiencing the things Lina experienced. This may be due to the action heavy plot. The story keeps up a relentless place of incident after incident after incident until it finally just ends. I thought this rather too abrupt. I was obviously not expecting, or wanting, any kind of "happily ever after", but I wanted more of a completion than I got, either for the story itself or Lina's character arc. I do feel like the strengths in the novel outweigh the weaknesses and it is an excellent choice for assisting in teaching an often forgotten aspect of 1940's history.