Lora's Reviews > Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
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's review
Dec 20, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, lib-read, g-ya-hist, want-to-reread, quality-ya-fic
Recommended for: fans of novels set during WWII
Read from April 16 to 18, 2011 — I own a copy

Actual rating: 4.5 stars

As soon as I saw this video, I knew I had to read this novel. Between Shades of Gray isn't the type of book I'd normally read, but I'm extremely glad that I decided to read it.

Lina is a very strong and courageous character. Despite the situation Lina is placed in at the young age of fifteen, she audaciously chooses to write about the terrible cruelties the Soviets are doing to those around her as well as her family and herself. Lina is an artist, and she uses this talent to depict the ghastly scenes she's forces to witness on a daily basis. She then hides her drawings where the NKVD, hopefully, won't find them. In this she hopes that, one day, someone will find the proof of what really occurred, and make sure that it never happens again.

I'm going to warn you, a good deal of this book is very grim and Sepetys doesn't cover up the horrors that were committed against these innocent people with euphemisms. There are quite a few shocking, disturbing, and graphic scenes in this. You'll probably want to read something light and fluffy after finishing it.
But much like the title of the book and the fledging plant sprouting up from the ice covered landscape on the book's cover signifies hope, the author does a wonderful job of incorporating snippets of hope even through the most grim of times for her characters.

Interspersed with Lina's time in the slavery camps, there are bittersweet flashbacks to Lina's life before her and her family were taken by the Soviets. I think they helped to break up the scenes of abuse and heartache, making the novel more palatable to the reader.
There is also a light romance in this that is both sweet and a welcome addition to a story such as this.

"I shut the bathroom door and caught sight of my face in the mirror. I had no idea how quickly it was to change, to fade. If I had, I would have stared at my reflection, memorizing it. It was the last time I would look into a real mirror for more than a decade."

Ruta Sepetys' writing is erudite, yet simple, and it flows very well. I just hope that this isn't one of those one-hit-wonder cases where the author has one story to tell and never writes anything again. I'd really like to read more from Sepetys, whether it be more stories such as this, or something completely different.

On a side note, the finished, physical copy of this (I say it in this way because some people probably have an ARC or an ebook) is quite gorgeous. The jacket seems to be made of recycled paper, so it has a very natural, rustic look and feel to it. And it has deckled edges, my favorite. :)

I think this is one of those books that will be highly praised by some (like myself), and sadly overlooked by others. It's easy to be distracted by the deluge of YA paranormal novels with the pretty covers and the pomp and heavy promotion, but, I assure you, Between Shades of Gray is more than worth your reading time.

This book reminds me just how fortunate I am to be born in the era and country that I was, and I found it very humbling. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to read it, and I highly recommend it.
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Reading Progress

04/17/2011 page 265
78.0% ". . . we're dealing with two devils who both want to rule hell." 2 comments

Comments (showing 1-49 of 49) (49 new)

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message 1: by Nic (new) - added it

Nic I have heard amazing things about this book.

message 2: by Nic (new) - added it

Nic Brilliant review!

message 3: by Morgan (new)

Morgan F Great review :)

I am so going to read this.

Lora Thanks Nic & Morgan :)

Morgan, with your love for Holocaust fiction, I think you'd really like this.

message 5: by Morgan (new)

Morgan F I do love Holocaust fiction. Something about the desperation, and the humanity that shines through, intrigues me.

I've just learned about Stalin in my AP West Civ class, so at least now I have background knowledge.

Arlene Awesome review Lora. I love Holocaust fiction too, but I need time in between because they really make me sad. I'm going to read this one. :)

message 7: by Flannery (new) - added it

Flannery I hate deckled pages. Blah. But I have this book and your review was lovely. I tend to like the hard-hitting books more than the fluff.

Lora Thanks Arlene---I hope you like it. :)

Lora Flannery wrote: "I hate deckled pages. Blah. But I have this book and your review was lovely. I tend to like the hard-hitting books more than the fluff."

You hate deckled pages? What?! They're so natural and textural! ;)

I do agree about the hard-hitting books, though. I plan to read a lot more meaningful books this year vs. straight fluff.

message 10: by Morgan (new)

Morgan F I'm not a fan of fluff. I would much rather read something with some depth. But I do read fluff anyway because its easier and quicker for the times I just feel like reading no matter the genre.

message 11: by Lora (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lora Same here.

message 12: by ~Tina~ (new)

~Tina~ This doesn't sound like a book I would enjoy, but loved the review hun!

message 13: by Lora (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lora Thanks, Tina :)

message 14: by Milly (new) - added it

Milly Very nice review Lora! Sounds like a very meaningful and substantial read. It's nice to read these for a change. I do like historical fiction so this is right up my alley!

Eileen Thanks, I'll put it on my to-read-list.

message 16: by Alyssa (new) - added it

Alyssa I've wanted to read this for a very long time. Your review has just reminded me to pick it up soon. :)

Reynje I loved this too, although I haven't yet reviewed it. Such a powerful, moving story..

message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

I was recommended this book by some time ago- and after your review, I think I'm going to have to bump it higher on my TBR list! Beautiful review, Lora.

message 19: by Giselle (new)

Giselle Sounds interesting!

Emily May Great review Lora! Sadly, this book wasn't for me but I'm glad you liked it :)

Nomes awesome review lora ~ you write so beautifully :)

message 22: by Lora (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lora Thanks, everyone.

And Nomes, that's really sweet. You write really beautifully, too. :)

Chris Thank you for the link to the author's site and video. Wow, very moving. I read ebooks a lot but feel as if I should have the physical book when reading this story. So I'm ordering it right now.

Caitlin i agree: )

message 25: by Simmy (new) - added it

Simmy I'm lithuanian and even i didn't know about this, my grandparents acted similarly when i asked about my great grandparents.. thanks for the link

message 26: by Maia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Maia why would u give it 4.5? sorry just wondering what made it down .5

message 27: by Lora (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lora Maia wrote: "why would u give it 4.5? sorry just wondering what made it down .5"

Sometimes I will knock off a half star because I felt that there was just a little something missing from the story for me.

message 28: by Dodie (new)

Dodie Singer Thanks Lora for the great review, I have purchased it for my school library for advanced readers. It is a powerful book, kinda reminds me of Corrie Tin Boom's journey and Ann Frank.

Jennifer I was shocked when after I read this that if had never heard about it before! This deserves way more recognition and your beautiful review is definitely going to help the cause.

message 30: by Nyl (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nyl I just read the book and the video give me chills. uhh :)

Barbara The video is incredibly moving. Wish I had watched it before reading the book. I just finished the book and am stunned by the story and the truth of it.

message 32: by Erin (new)

Erin Woo Thank you so much for linking to the video! It's probably the best "book trailer" I've ever seen, and seeing the personal connection between the author and her story really gives so much more depth to the book (of course, not that it needs it).

Also, I totally agree with what you said about the flashbacks. I personally liked them because it helped to flesh out who Lina had been before the war – how she was not just a nameless victim but an artist, a dreamer, someone with a life before (and hopefully after) Siberia. And how there'd be little triggers in the main storyline that would relate to the flashbacks – it was like Lina was hanging on to these little beads of memory, just trying to survive.

Elizabeth Robbins I am also one of those people that don't like historical fiction, but this book is fantastic

송준기 I agree with you I wonder how do you think about this title meaning. Gray is gloomy and hopeless color. So because of this reason author choose this color to title. I think this book's construction is attractive do you agree? When I read this book sometimes there is different style of penmanship This describes past story. I think exactly it is Lina's memory. I want to listen your opinion. What is your attractive point of this book?

희라 김 Actually, I don’t like reading these kinds of novels, so before reading, I had a little bit of mind that it would be boring. But now, I’m ashamed of thinking the world “boredom” in front of this serious topic, and like you, I think that it’s a mercy to read such this book.
And I totally agree with your last paragraph, “This book reminds me just how fortunate I am to be born in the era and country that I was.” It is a treasure to live in this peaceful world. And moreover, I felt a little shamed because even though we live in this peaceful and comfortable world, there are too many conflicts and selfish thoughts for their own benefits. I think we should reflect on ourself about this topic.

message 36: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Yu Your review made me realize a lot of things that I left out. Yes, it's very fortune that we weren't born in the era World War II.
But I think this book shows us not only cruelty and inhumanity the war has but also the power of love. The book evokes us about the power of love by showing how Lina and her family and all people In concentration camp were gathered and strengthen their bond and endured the tragic and dark days. Ultimately, the scars from war could be healed by love whatever the love for friends or for one’s country or for family. The love shows us the miracle side of human soul.

message 37: by Chaeyeong (last edited Jun 24, 2017 05:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chaeyeong Kim Things that I felt from this book seems quite similar to yours. Actually I am also one of the people who don't really prefer these kinds of novels, but now, having finished reading the whole book, I regret myself having intentionally avoided the works about war or other 'blue' historical events. There are so much stories that have to be revealed, addressed, and discussed, so that this kind of 'evil' would never be allowed again in human society.
I also agree on your idea that "the author does a wonderful job of incorporating snippets of hope even through the most grim of times for her characters." Despite the 'dark' historical plot, I believe the readers could still find hope through the stories of warmhearted people; the scenes in which people in the jurta, Andruis, and Kretzsky helped Lina impressed me a lot.

Suebin Park I agree with your review in a lot of parts. And especially there was the part you said "Sepetys doesn't cover up the horrors, making this novel have a bit of shocking, disturbing, and graphic scenes and it can make people want to r read something light and fluffy after finishing it.". I'm with you in this part. But I thought that we need more books that deal with those parts. Because we need to uncover hidden parts in our history. I felt gloomy and sad, but I was so grateful to Sepetys for writing such a great book as you were. Thank you for writing such an amazing review, it made me realize a number of things that I haven't thought about before!

Soongeon You wrote this review in various perspectives. After I read your Review, I can think another perspectives. One of them is interesting. You wrote like 'Interspersed with Lina's time in the slavery camps, there are bittersweet flashbacks to Lina's life before her and her family were taken by the Soviets'. I did not think before about these stories of Lina's warm experiences with her Family. But after I focused on these stories, I could felt that these stories have a role. Some of them were the thing that inform us what would happen in next chapter, and some stories reinforced the tragedy. Furthermore, I want to read another book of the writer of this book. Maybe the books also give us something different Feeling.

Ryusohee I think you have a lot of common ideas that I also have. Especially the part that you wrote that this book is more than worth our reading time was the most impressive part. Truly, we are born in the fortunate, lucky era and we are living a happy, peaceful life. However, there still are many people who are suffering like the characters in this book and they need a lot of help. I also thought that we should be alike Lina, a courageous girl who tries to survive no matter what happens around her. She is really brave and knows that she have to tell the things that aren't right, knows how to resist against the dishonesty. I would like to recommend this book to the world, to make people realize about this historical event-that people rarely know about. Anyway, I really like this book and had a chance to reflect on myself.

message 41: by 순원 (new) - added it

순원 황 About the phrases ‘This book reminds me just how fortunate I am to be born in the era and country that I was, and I found it very humbling.’, I really agreed your opinion. We do not know how happy our life is. I think your way of thinking is almost same with me. Because I was very shocked after I read this book, because of the serious mood of it. After I read this book, I tried to find to forget the story of the book. Even though I played computer game, I could not ignore this fact. I don't know the reason exactly, but in my own opinion, it seems that maybe NKVD's actions on the family of Lina are in my head for a long time. It was a very sympathetic review of Between Shades of Gray. I thought about threatening factors of our peace like war, and I hope you think a bit more about it. Thank you for good review.

JaewonChoi Your review is exactly how I feel now. Similar to you, I am also one of the people who don’t like historical, gloomy story-especially based on war. The author, Ruta Sepetys just tells us the whole story without hiding anything. Children, the elderly, and even newborn babies die awful deaths, and many more suffer terribly as they struggle to survive. All I can do was just watching the situation where the characters go through things so raw and brutal, so I felt a great sadness throughout the entire story. Actually, maybe it can be a reason why I tend to avoid these kind of gloomy pieces. And by the way, I want to ask you a question. ‘Are you fully content with your current life?’ Eating breakfast, looking at one’s face reflected in the mirror-little moments like these just seem like things that just happen. Through reading this book, I learned the value of making time to show appreciation for my current life, and also realized yet again just how precious my family is. We usually don’t miss something until it’s gone. As you said that this book reminded you just how fortunate you are to be born in the era, I can also felt importance of my life. Thank you for your precious opinion.

심준보 Before starting reading this book, I also watched the video that you watched and it helped me understand some circumstances in this book, such as separated fathers, the trains that carried Lithuanians. Moreover, this book let me know how happy my life is. And after reading this book, I questioned myself: "If I were in Lina's condition, could I take actions that Lina did?" I think that Lina is one of the bravest girls in the world because she did many things that seemed to be impossible or very dangerous and I can't say that I also have the courage to do so.
I hope more people to read this book because reading this book might give a chance to know the history that was concealed from the world.

message 44: by Heo (last edited Jun 24, 2017 11:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heo In wow great review! thanks to you, I can know the existence of movie. during my vacation, i would watch the movie.
in fact, during reading this book, I felt similar with you. I felt a great sadness throughout the entire story. but, This book reminds me just how fortunate born in Korea and peaceful home circumstance. Not the slavery camp! we had to say thanks to god. and our parents.
however, as you know, in the currency time, 21 century, still, the slavery camp exist! in the north Korea. never ending. and human couldn't stop the situation. even though we know how serious the camp like the novel. HOW WE STOP THIS HISTORICAL REPEAT?

message 45: by Lee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lee In I agree with you. Lina is an amazing character. It is too obvious for me to say this, but if I was Lina, I would never have done those brave things like Lina. She is tough and takes the lead in helping others. It's her amazing ability and I kept thinking that I want to be a brave and kind person like her while reading this book. Lina didn't give up and become complacement. We often put up the word "give up" in our mouths. There seems to be no end to the negative situation, but eventually we will win. Like we did last time. Thank you for good review.

Kim Jaewon It was very valuable review for all the readers who had read this book. Like you said, this book makes me remind how fortunate we are to be born in the era, and live in the era. Also, we shouldn't forget the war too. Thank you for your review!

message 47: by Yun (new) - rated it 5 stars

Yun Jihye I agree with your review that this book is worth praised in some part, I can also know about the Lithuanians displaced to Siberian work camps during World War 2. And Lina's frequent reference about Edward Munch and Ruta Sepetys' quite a few shocking, disturbing, and graphic scenes are also very impressive to me. I like your review! Thank you:-)

message 48: by SeungHyun (new)

SeungHyun Song Me too, I think it's a nice book. Actually, I loved this book. at first I got to read this book, I thought that it was going to be boring and banal. So, it was a bit hard for me to start reading the book. However, it was not long that I got attracted by this book. Eventhough I had big exams soon, I couldn't put the book down. Each time i finished the chapter and determined to stop reading, I got curious what was going to happen next. The favorite part of this book is where Lina and Andrius had romance. I was really looking forward to see romance between Andrius and Lina since i the beginning of the book. However, the part that was the most impressive is another part, where Lina finds out that Andrius's mom, Mrs. Arvydus had to be a prostitute with no choice, to save his son. While reading this chapter I got upset about the cowardliness of the soldiers using Andrius to threaten Mrs. Arvydas to be a prostitute. Shocked at the things that the soldiers do to people, I decided to find more about the information of other cases that showed "imperialism" and "cruelty(victims)". The most favorite thing about this book is that it allowed me to know about, think about, and find more information on the circumstances of the time which this book talks about. Consequently, this book gave me a big opportunity to make myself grow up. I really want to recommend this book to others!

message 49: by Nuri (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nuri Jo I was shocked when I first read the book. But I never regret reading this book. I think that it is a really meaningful book. My grandfather generation is a generation that has gone through war. He participated in a war called the Vietnam War and lost his one leg. So I listen to the grandfather of the cruelty of war. I know how scary the war is. So like you, I really appreciate the fact that I was born in this age and here. Thanks:)

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