Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on March 22, 2011
Published by Philomel
Pages: 344
Read From: 7.19.13 - 7.20.13

"Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch." 
Lithuania, June 1941 
Fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to summer. In the dark of night there is a knock at the door and life is forever changed. Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, tearing their family apart. The three are hauled from their home and thrown into cattle cars, where they soon discover their destination: Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina embeds clues in her drawings and secretly passes them along, hoping they will reach her father's prison camp. In this dramatic and moving story, Lina desperately fights for her life and the lives of those around her. But will love be enough to keep her alive?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I'm not a huge fan of it, simply because there isn't really anything about it that catches my attention. The title definitely caught my attention, but in the wrong way. When I first saw this book, I thought it might be a YA version of Fifty Shades of Gray. World War Two didn't even enter my mind.

Characters: While there are plenty of characters that I attached to, I would definitely say that this is a fact-driven story. Lina has an innocent and caring personality, even though she struggles to love and forgive the enemy like her mother does. I never thought Lina an uncaring person. The other people who populate the story are all equally memorable - not by name, but by certain ticks or events that happen specifically to them and forever define their characters. So while like me you may struggle to recall so-and-so's actual name, you will remember the character and what made him/her memorable.

The Romance: Even amid the turmoil of being ripped from home and thrown into a brutal labor camp, Lina finds a guy to fall in love with. Enter Andrius - a young man that I immediately developed a character crush for. He looks after Lina's family in the labor camp, smuggling extra food and whatever else he can to ease their harsh new life. I even managed to forgive him ripping a few pages out of a book, though it certainly took me a while. ;-) Because Between Shades of Gray is fact-driven, not a whole lot of time is spent on the romance. It's sweet, it's inevitable, and it's the exact sort of romance that I like:  it's there, but not invasive.

Plot: The official synopsis sums the story up pretty nicely. There isn't a whole lot of a "from Point A to Point B" plot. It focuses on the sort of things persecuted Lithuanians and other victims of Soviet Communist rule endured. This isn't an escape story or even a spy story; it's a well-researched, emotional journey through one of history's most tragic and horrible events - an event many people sadly know nothing about. It explores what life was like in the labor camps and the indignities the Baltic peoples suffered. There is no central villain, no main goal (other than staying alive); it's a very linear, very personal story full of emotion.

Believability: The Author has done a lot of research, and while I did know about the awful things the Communists did the Baltic nations, there were facts the Author presented in this book that I didn't even know, though I wasn't surprised.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. The first-person narration made the story that much more emotional, that much more personal. While Lina doesn't focus too much on her own personal feelings, her blunt narration of what's going on brings a stark reality to the story. The Author portrays brutal treatment without going into excessive detail. Nor does she shy away from the facts; she states what happens in simple, blunt words, and it has an effect that no amount of gory detail would accomplish.

Content: Women being forced into pleasuring the guards at the labor camp is alluded to, but there are never any actual details.

Conclusion: With how the story was going, I anticipated a truly depressing end. And while it's not exactly roses and sunshine, it does have a positive and hopeful note. It's also very abrupt in its conclusion, but it somehow fit. Between Shades of Gray was a beautiful and brutal read. The Author doesn't sugarcoat anything, but she also populates her story with strong characters who fight as hard as they possibly can to retain their humanity and their right to live. It's heartbreaking and inspiring. It's also a real eye-opener to a forgotten bit of Communist history. Read this with tissues on hand.

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, sixteen-and-up; adults will enjoy this as much as teens, if not more. Great for historical fiction fans!

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