Jessica's books

The One and Only Ivan
Revolutionary War on Wednesday
Leprechaun in Late Winter
Ella Enchanted
The Courage of Sarah Noble
Plain Murder
Gone-Away Lake
Circling the Sun
Maggie and Max
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl
The Night Sister
Tuck Everlasting
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Bedknob and Broomstick
Mister Monday
Alice Through the Looking Glass
The Birchbark House
The Hobbit
The Witch's Daughter

Jessica's favorite books »

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Title:  Between Shades of Gray
Author:  Ruta Sepetys
Publisher:  Philomel Books
Publish Date:  March 22, 2011
Source:  Good Golly Miss Holly ARC Tours

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. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

My thoughts:  I finished this book a few minutes ago with tears running down my face.  I am not sure how to review this book as words cannot do it justice.  It will haunt me for a long time the way only one other book, Night by Elie Wiesel, has. 

I am a history buff.  I am fascinated by World War II for reasons I cannot really explain.  Maybe it is because I cannot fathom how people could be so sick and cruel to other human beings!  However, in all my readings of WWII, I have only read about Hitler and his reign of terror over the Jews.  I have heard of Stalin, of course, but have never really read anything about him before this book.

Lina was 15 when her world was turned upside down.  Her father was gone and suddenly the NKVD (the secret Soviet police) came bursting into their house screaming at them to "davai" or hurry.  Lina, along with her mother and younger brother and hundreds of other people from Lithuania, are herded to the train depot where they are crowded into cattle cars.  From there we travel with Lina and her family through six weeks of torture.  After the six weeks they arrive at a labor camp and later are transferred to another labor camp in the North Pole. 

You read this book through Lina's point of view.  Some of the people on the cattle train with her, who soon become a sort of distended family, have names while others are simply known as "the man who winds his watch" or the "grumpy lady".  You come to love these people and want them all to survive, although little will (this is not a spoiler, just simply history). 

These characters were written and described so well that I felt their happiness at the beginning of the book followed by their fear and confusion and then their complete despair.  I found myself sickened by the way they were treated while holding out hope that someone would show them an inkling of kindness.  As people died, I felt the overwhelming sadness and the crushing grief that Lina felt.  I felt the immense hatred for the NKVD, especially those like Ivanov, who was the epitome of evil!  I felt again, the hope as Lina found the sun at the end. 

I learned so much from this book.  Things that horrified me but that I am a better person for knowing about. You remember what it is to want to live and to succeed at it.  You learn how helping others can make you happy, even when you literally have nothing.  You can learn how evil can ruin the best of people.  It is a riveting book!

This book is a book that everyone must read!  I think it would be an amazing book for a high school World Literature class or even a World History class.  It was much more interesting than Anne Frank's Diary and showed you a whole different part of WWII, which is the part most people are unaware of.  The end was written so well with a thought and hope that everyone should have:

"These writings may shock or horrify you, but that is not my intention. It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself."  Page 346 (ARC copy.  Subject to change).

Again, I don't think this review can do this book justice!  It is so important to be aware of this evil and to never let it happen again!  Please, pick up this book and read it.


  1. I LOVED this book...I was so moved by it that I cried, too. I read it in one sitting--I could not leave these characters and not know what became of them...A love story, a survival story, a heartbreaking tale but filled with hope. Love it!

  2. This is a great review and would be a good book club read. I read the Zookeeper's Wife and that gave a lot of insight about Poland during the war.

  3. Wow, what a powerful review. I have read a fair amount of Holocaust literature, but this perspective is a new one for me. Thanks so much for highlighting it.
    I am curious if you have read The Book Thief? That is one of the few books that has ever made me sob.

  4. Ah!!! What an amazing review! I hope to read this too! I'm hopping by to tell you that there's a linky that you can put your reviews in on my page now:

    I've also added a little random prize at the end to show my gratitude of you all doing my challenge!!


  5. Great review of what sounds like a powerful publication.

    FYI...I followed a link on Brenda Youngerman's blog post to visit you!