To Read or Not to Read?

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I will admit that, although I often love historical fiction, I’m actually not a history buff at all. But there are certain time periods/historical events that I am especially drawn to (i.e. Tudor England and the Holocaust). So, when I was burnt out on fantasy stories and wanted something standalone and I ran across a review for this book I was instantly drawn to it because the situations listed on the back cover were very much like those found Nazi concentration camps.

The book is about Lina,a Lithuanian girl who is taken from her home by the Soviets during the summer of 1941. What follows is a years long journey that separates her family from her father and takes them to Siberian prison camps where they face disease, starvation, and much much more. And yes this is a young adult novel (which so many people tend to look down upon) and yes there is a touch of a romance weaved into the story but the focus was not on the romance itself. Instead it was on hope, survival, and the power of artwork.

I liked the characters and personally thought they came alive through the beautifully written passages. I worried for them and I hoped for them even though I knew going into it that not everyone would make it out alive. (I was pleasantly surprised to read the letter at the end and learn that there was a bit of a happy ending for a few of the characters).

I thought the pacing was good. In a story of confusion, shattered hopes and dreams, one would dwell more on the beginning of the fall of their normal life than after they became used to it so I find it very understandable that the first train ride and journey took up a majority of the story but not a majority of the character’s lives.

And I also liked that in almost every chapter there was a flashback to something that happened in Lina’s life before she was imprisoned. They not only showed how different the protagonist’s life was before it happened but I also found it interesting that most of the flashbacks directly correlated with what was happening in real time (i.e. remembering conversations that Lina didn’t understand at the time but would in the new context of her life).

All in all I really liked this book and thought it was powerful, beautifully written and heartbreaking in places. And I’m also glad that it taught me more history because, as a friend of mine pointed out in her own review of this book, we must know about our past to make sure we don’t repeat it.

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