Between Shades of Gray

Posted December 29, 2011 by Tara in Challenges /// 10 Comments

Reminds me of one of the covers for If I Stay.

Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys
Philomel/Penguin Audio
Audio Book from Overdrive (Public Library)

[#2 in my 75 book challenge]

What an interesting read, and a detour from the stuff I’ve been reading lately. This is heartbreaking and beautiful story about the relocation of Lithuanians to Siberia during World War II. Lina, her mother, and her brother (Jonas) are ripped from their home in the middle of the night, spend weeks in a crowded train, and are forced to work and starve in bitter cold conditions. Lina is an artist, so she records her experiences through journals and drawings with the hopes of these messages finding her imprisoned father.

Now I did take Russian History in college and vaguely remember studying Stalin’s political actions during WWII. However, this story shows that the devastating effects of this war extended beyond the soldiers and the Holocaust. Millions of Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians were deported, starved, and worked to death.

When reading a book such as this one, I immediately consider if if would be a good purchase for my school. I don’t think our curriculum goes into much depth on this topic, so the book would likely go unread, but I would purchase it for the general collection. It is beautifully written and unique in content. However, there are several scenes that mention sexual abuse. There are a few students I can think of that would appreciate this sophisticated story, but it is pretty solidly YA. Look for it to appear on many award lists as we go into book award season in January. I’ve seen this title thrown around on both Newbery and Printz discussion lists, and the iBookstore on iTunes just selected it as the Best Teen Novel of 2011.

I liked that this story was different and that it was beautiful. I liked learning something new about history and that Sepetys gave a voice to stories than have gone untold. I also like that there was a little bit of romance in the story, something not often seen in this type of historical fiction. The weaknesses came in two places: the audio narration and the ending. The ending just felt too abrupt. The audio narration jumped between Lina’s present situation and the flashbacks to the past too abruptly, so sometimes I got confused about what was going on. These were really both minor complaints, neither was terrible enough to change my overall view of the story.

Final Grade:  B  It was really good, fascinating, and kept my interest. I can see why everyone is talking about it, and I would recommend it to anyone over the age of fourteen (I think my middle school kids lack the historical context to really appreciate it). A very, very sad book, but an important one.


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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10 responses to “Between Shades of Gray

  1. I certain hope you follow through with exposing your students to this type of historical book. Today’s American Gen Y know SO LITTLE about Eastern Europe in the 20th Century.

  2. I also really enjoyed this book, I really enjoy reading books about the war and found this particularly interesting as I didn’t really have any knowledge of any of the history in Russia

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