Michelle's Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

betweenshadesofgray Hardcover: 338 pages
Publisher: Philomel Books

Release Date: March 22, 2011
Source of my copy: won from publisher
Series: none
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
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.

Michelle's Review:
Between Shades of Gray is a story about Lina, her brother Jonas and their mother after they were taken by the NKVD during Stalin's reign of terror. Along with Lina and her family, other women, young children and old people (all innocent) were also forced out of their homes in the middle of the night. They were forced into dirty cattle cars to take them up north, eventually past the Arctic Circle and into Siberia to work in labor camps. At the same time, the husbands, fathers and brothers were separated from the women and children and put in other train cars were taken to prison. Lina, who was a talented artist used her talent to attempt to communicate with her father. Along the way, Lina and the others were subjected to much horror and suffering that it's hard to believe it really happened and there were survivors who lived to tell about it (albeit in secret because speaking of their experiences meant immediate imprisonment when the deportees returned in the mid-1950s).

I admit wasn't particularly excited to pick this book up because after being bored and disappointed by Annexed I wasn't looking forward to reading a book seemingly in the same vein. Boy, was I wrong! Between Shades of Gray was nothing like Annexed. This book was amazing, beautiful and one of the best I've read this year. There were many horrific scenes of course but through it all there was so much heroism, family, love and the triumph of the human spirit refusing to give up that I teared up many times. I thought the author did a truly remarkable job with the writing--it was well-researched and you can tell it's a subject very close to the author's heart. I really liked the characters in the novel, Lina's mother especially who was the rock that held everyone together. Lina did a lot of growing up in the novel--she didn't really shine in the beginning, it was more her mother and brother. But in the last third of the book was when Lina became a true heroine and I liked her all the more for it. I loved that Lina even had a little romance amidst everything going on. Between Shades of Gray is a moving novel that grips your emotions and won't let go until the last page and you're all the more better for reading this rarely told tale from history. I think it belongs right up there with The Diary of a Young Girl and is a must-read for everyone. 5 out 5 stars

Here's a video where the author talks about just how close the Lina's story is to her own family history and her research for Between Shades of Gray.


  1. I've been reading about this book for a while now, and it sounds like it would be a really intersting read. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing your review also! I'm pushing this book up on my reading list. :)

  2. I have heard so many great things about this book. I am glad you really liked it, which makes me want to read it even more. Great review

  3. Great review! I read so much rave reviews on this!


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