Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Pages: Hardcover, 344 pages

Publisher: Penguin (Philomel Books)

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.

This is a book that once it has been read, it will stay with you for the rest of your life. I teach the Holocaust every year with Anne Frank and various other texts, but I will now be adding this amazing debut novel to the repertoire of resources that I will use. I have to admit that I am among those who knew very little about the suffrage of the Latvians, Lithuanians and others whom Stalin tortured and eliminated in the 1930’s and 40’s. This amazing debut novel has opened my eyes to this part of history and has inspired me to learn more and not let the suffrage of the people go forgotten.

Sepetys has done an amazing job telling the story through the eyes of Lina and her suffrage on the 6,500 mile journey through horrid conditions, the spreading of diseases, loss of life both naturally and by the hands of the soldiers all while she is finding out who she is and what strength she has in these conditions. The raw emotion throughout the novel was what made the novel (amongst other things) such a great read. History cannot be altered and must be authentic and the fact that Sepetys’ family experienced this and that she researched so thoroughly for this novel draw you in and you not only become emotionally invested in Lina’s life and experiences, you also learn what these people went through during this horrific time.

When I took my 8th grade students to Washington, DC a few weeks ago we were able to visit the Holocaust Museum. I was beyond thrilled to see this novel on the shelf and my students bought all of their copies off of the shelf. Most of those read it on the way home and we have had amazing conversation about it. I love books that allow me the opportunity to do that. Visit Ruta HERE to find out more about her journey through research and get other bonus material for the novel.

This video is a must see as well. Find out more about the novel and hear from Sepetys first hand on the novel and its importance to her.

Ruta Sepetys discusses her upcoming novel, Between Shades of Gray from Penguin Young Readers Group on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Mindi Rench said...

I read an ARC of this book earlier this year, and like you, I still can't stop thinking about the story. I knew Stalin killed millions of his own people and those in countries he occupied, but I never internalized it until I read Sepetys's book. I tell everyone I know about this book. It's definitely a must-read.

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