Thursday, 5 April 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Released: March 22nd, 2011
Publisher: Philomel Books
Pages: 344
Buy The Book: Amazon

"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."

I'd read a glowing review of this book but I'll admit I initially thought it was a little out of my comfort zone. I didn't know much about Stalin or his regime before I read it, and historical accounts turned into fiction don't usually catch my attention. But this is an astounding story of courage and hope, and I'm glad that it was given a platform.

I had previously read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, which is wonderful in all its flowery, liquid language and description, so to go from that to the stark depictions of life in a Siberian prison camp was quite a shock to the system, but the bare frankness of the prose here serves to illustrate how exposed these people truly were. It never feels like the novel is playing on the reader's emotions or even trying to elicit sympathy; it simply states the facts in a very naked, honest way. Despite the bleak setting of the novel, there are some truly heartwarming scenes which show the human race at its best. Ruta Sepetys spoke to many Lithuanians who had survived this ordeal and some of the incidents represented in the book take inspiration from real life accounts; it makes you truly marvel at their spirit.

Most of the novel focuses on the relationships between Lina and her family, but it was interesting to see how a romance would slot into the story. It followed the pattern of the rest of the novel, in that it wasn't obvious or overwrought, but subtle and rather more enigmatic than some romance plots. It played second fiddle to the overarching story, which was a pleasant surprise, as many novels aimed at young adults tend to use romance to push along the plot. 

I felt a little more closure could have been offered with the ending. I don't want to stray into spoiler territory but the end, when it arrives, is rather abrupt, and could have been better explained. I suppose with this kind of historical/fictional account, endings aren't neatly wrapped up anyway, but that was my only complaint of the novel. The book is presented as a young adult novel but some of the themes aren't suitable for a younger audience; I'd recommend it to more mature readers.


Megan said...

This is a great review. The book sounds like something right down my alley, I love historical fiction. Thanks for bringing it to my attention :)

Megan @ Storybook Love Affair

iLuvReadingTooMuch said...

This novel was amazing, I totally loved it! I nearly cried though. You're completely right about the ending, it was a little abrupt. But nonetheless, it was still an amazing book :) Great review and I'm a new follower!

Confessions of a Readaholic

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