In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experiences in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to their father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.
It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
This book took me on quite a frightening journey. By the end I was emotionally spent, much like the characters, and longed for a satisfying ending. After all the characters had been through, I really wanted them to find their happy. Admittedly I struggled with the beginning of this book. The writing is a little stiff with little detail which had me thinking Lina was about eleven or twelve years old though she is fifteen. However once the second part of this book got underway I was completely engrossed in the story and couldn’t put the book down.
Lina, her mother, and brother Jonas are taken from their home by the NKVD and herded onto a truck with others. They are being taken to Siberia to work on a beet and potato farm while their father has been sent to a prison camp. A talented artist, Lina resolves to get a message to her dad about their location by drawing everything she sees on the difficult journey on her handkerchief. Throughout Lina’s and her families time in captivity, they experience mental, physical, and emotional abuse, as well as sickness, torture, and death.
Lina impressed me because throughout her experience she maintained her identity and was even a little defiant. But she never pressed to the point of endangering a life although she took risks to gain information. Though her mother was the cornerstone of the family, Lina was clearly the strength. I admired the way she documented everything through her drawings. I love that she was determined to use her art to eventually let the world know about the horrible things that happened to her and her family.
Her brother Jonas was sweet and responsible and easy to love. His concern for his family and longing for his dad was endearing and I just wanted to whisk him away from all the horror. Her mother was lovely. She was always concerned for others, and generous with everyone though she couldn’t afford to be.
But my favorite character in this book was Andrius Arvydas. Andrius was the one bright spot among the dreariness of the world they were forced into. He was caring, generous, and willing to sacrifice for others. Though he was only sixteen he stepped in as the male figure for Jonas, and came to care deeply for Lina. He was always stealing and funneling extra food to his starving companions, and even helped to save Jonas’ life at one point. He was strong and steady, and definitely someone Lina and her family could depend on.
Overall I thought the book was gripping and compelling. You never read too many stories about the effect of Stalin and the inhumane treatment he encouraged so this book was an eye opener for me. This is not a light read so if you’re looking for levity, pick up something else. But if you’re in the mood to read something that reflects real events and will have a definite impact, Between Shades of Gray is your book.
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Filed in: Fiction, Reviews, Young Adult Tags: Books, Fiction, Review, Ruta Sepetys, Young Adult