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Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Razorbill
Challenge: DAC
Source: Review copy (UK proof)

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.

I don't think there are the words that will do this book justice. It is truly awesome and possibly the best I have read so far this year.

This book is set during World War Two and focuses on the atrocities carried out by the Soviet to the people under their rule. I may be wrong but I think this is the first time this topic has been tackled in young adult fiction with the atrocities committed in Nazi Germany being more commonly covered. I don't think it is commonly known that Stalin's government killed far more people than Hitler's and I am very glad to see that someone has finally done something to draw attention to it and go someway to making the story more well known.

This story is based on the experiences of the author's family who lived in Lithuania during Soviet rule. The book itself is an fantastic example of how to engage young people with history. It tells a huge story by focuses down on one individual who has lived it and follows that story through that one person's experiences and really makes you empathise with what they are going through. The story follows the main character Lina from the day her family is rounded up by the soviet and follows them as they are deported from labour camp to labour and gives a realistic and graphic account of the horrors inflicted on these people. The descriptions of life and the conditions people were forced to live with day to day are truly horrendous and really make you think about the value of life.

A startling realistic account of life under soviet rule. One of the best books I have read this year and certainly one I will be recommending frequently to ensure the suffering of the people the book is written about is never forgotten. A brave and powerful debut.

Thank you Razorbill for the review copy


Sakura Sandra said…
That's true that a lot of people don't know that about Stalin and at least in my education, Stalin was rarely even mentioned. I can't read sad books very often, but I do like to add one in every now and again and I think this one sounds like it would be worth that limited spot in my reading list. Thanks for a great review. :)

-Sandra from
This sounds like it will be a very interesting read. It's on my to read list. Great review!
Vicki said…
Fantastic review Kirsty. I'm buying this in my next book order.
Liddy said…
This sounds fantastic. Great review too.
I'm just too scared to pick this up, I think it will be way too emotional for me!

Perhaps if you have time, would you mind stopping by my blog?
I found it very difficult finding the words to describe this one as well!
BookGeek said…
I just posted my teaser for this week using this book! I am really excited to read it now. Can't wait to hunker down at home and get to it. Sounds amazing!
I agree with you that the Sepetys did an excellent job of engaging her readers!