Book Review: "Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys

Summary 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.

Even if you don't read young adult books at all, you must read this book. It is one of the most moving and haunting stories that I have read this year, perhaps in my entire life. I had no idea about the Baltic cleansing that took place during WWII. In school, all we learned about Stalin was that he was the leader of the Soviet Union and he had been a US ally, part of the Big 3. Honestly, it wasn't until a few years later that I discovered all the horrible things he had done to the people in his country. It makes me very sad that many in our country don't know any of this. We learn about how evil Hitler was because of what he did to the Jews and other people he deemed inferior but here was Stalin doing the same thing and no one knows that much about it.

This book brings that time period to life as we follow a 15 year old girl who, along with her family, is taken away from her home simply because of her heritage. I think by portraying a teen girl, Sepetys allows the reader to become more sympathetic to the plight of Lina and her family because there are innocent children and young people involved here. It was so sad to read about what her family and her had to suffer through during their days in the train and work camps. Lina's mother is the epitome of a mother who sacrifices everything for her children. Her love for Lina and her brother is very obvious throughout the book and I was glad that Lina was the type of daughter who recognized it. It is very heartwarming to see teenagers who respect their parents and honor their family even in times of extreme hardship.

I really despised the bald man in this book. Throughout the book he is bitter, mean, cranky and just a despicable human being. He wants to die and is miserable because he can't. When he reveals what he did at the end of the story, I was so disgusted with him that I wanted to spit. Of course, when I look at the whole story though, it makes me feel like a bad person again for being angry with him. It's amazing how books can make you feel so much human emotion and have you really look at how you think and view others.

If you think YA books are nothing but fluff and vampires, you need to think again. This book may feature a teenage protagonist but the story is for all ages. You cannot help but be moved by this story. At the end of the book, in the author's note she hopes that readers will want to learn more about the Baltic cleansing and bring to light all the injustice and tragedy that happened to the people of the area. I hope so too. This is a story that everyone needs to read. HIGHLY recommended.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is published by Philomel (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher


  1. My family was affected by the events of this story, so I adored this book. I'm so glad to see someone writing about it.


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