From the beginning of the book, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys exposed me to aspects of raw human suffering that I was not fully prepared for. This continued throughout the book, an incredible tale of resilience in the face of unimaginable struggle.
his book is from the point of view of Lina, a 15-year-old girl from Lithuania who is captured by the Soviets along with her younger brother and mother. Lina’s family is shuttled around Europe in a train car of other “criminals”, eventually landing in Siberia. Here, Lina and her family are abused by the NKVD officers, forced to work endless hours of manual labor, and live in squalor. Lina’s only respite from the horrors she encounters every day is her drawings, which could lead to terrible consequences if discovered.
Lina constantly awed me with her courage in the face of danger and disaster, but she was so daring that it occasionally felt unrealistic. The minor characters (the bald man, Andrius’s mother, etc.) were well fleshed-out all had their own stories to tell. These side storylines were some of the most interesting and eye-opening parts of the book. While Andrius (a friend of Lina) was slightly predictable, he was kind and added a much-needed lighter element to the plot. This book found beauty in dark places in unexpected ways. There is a fine line between exposing cruelties and becoming bleak and depressing, and I think this book walked the line incredibly well. Lina’s suffering has made me reflect on and realize my own privilege, as well as ponder how I would react in such circumstances.
A main goal of the book is to educate people on the suffering of deported Lithuanians during World War II, which it achieved for me as a reader. I had not learned about this subject in school and knew little about it prior to reading this book. I would recommend this book for people who want to learn about a historical issue that has been somewhat swept aside in education, and who want to be inspired by the perseverance and courage embodied in this book. I would recommend it only for older teens and up due to the violence and inhumane living conditions that the story centers around. This book demonstrated to me the irrepressible nature of the human spirit, even while facing horrors that, sickeningly, truly happened.