Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

7824322Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received: Publisher
Publication Date: March 22nd, 2011
Publisher: Philomel Books
Point of View: 1st Person & Feminine
Recommended Age: 13+
Pacing: Slow
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Labor Camps, World War II

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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.


I don’t know what the educational plan looks like in other Canadian provinces – it should be quite similar to Quebec’s – but where I went to high school we learned so little about the social consequences of World War II, so I’m grateful I have books like BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY to enlighten me on the subject.

Here’s the thing: this is different from Ruta Sepetys’ other novels. Maybe because it’s her first one, I don’t know, but suffice it to say, it’s not as impossible to put down. Because it focuses so much on the psychological and social ramifications of World War II, the plot is rather slow and uneventful.

Lina, her brother and her mother are sent to a labour camp in Siberia, where they are forced to work for food. Lina wants desperately to find her father, who was sent to prison for treasonous behaviour. People are dying every day. Some are killed, some kill themselves. The war is hard on everyone but Lina knows she needs to be strong if she wants to ever see her father again.

See, it’s less about the politics and more about the social. After all, whole communities of people are suddenly uprooted and forced into slavery… starved… beaten… rapped… killed. It’s a very emotional story. Ruta Sepetys is an extraordinary writer. I hope she will write for many years to come.

This book has been recommended to me by dozens of people, so I’m happy I finally gave it a chance.


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8 thoughts on “Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

  1. This sounds so cool! It’s the same in the US; we really don’t talk about the social aspect much either except for the profound impact of the concentration camps. Otherwise, it’s pretty much dates and alliances and such. Recently I’ve been really into learning more about history and this sounds like it’s right up my alley! I’ll be sure to check it out sometime! Lovely review, Lola!

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks


  2. This is my favorite book by Ruta Sepetys!! This feels like it has more emotions as compared to her latter works. Also, this enlightened me points that were completely not touched in history classes.


  3. I read this book a year ago and thought it was very well done. It made me think and it allowed me to learn something about people being put into camp up in the Arctic. I had no idea. Definitely a powerful book. Glad you enjoyed it too!


  4. It may be slower… but it sounds like it is really emotional and runs deep with it’s thought process and meaning. I have studied world war two inside and out, because it is for my exams in May. We do have to look at the social, political and economic outcomes of everything, but it just makes this book all the more appealing to me for some reason.


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