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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
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it was amazing
bookshelves: emotional, favorites, historical, beloved, rereading-material, best-of, standalone, movie-to-be, top-ten
Read 2 times. Last read April 7, 2012 to April 14, 2012.

'Now my heart sank into my stomach where the bile began to chew it.'

Step on my heart, cut it wide open, rub it with salt and feed it to the sharks.. Or just make me read this book, because this is how it feels like reading this story.

How can I call “wonderful” a book full of so many horrors?
...But I will, because it really is, and what pains me the most is that it's all true, that this is a really tiny part of the darkest piece of our history as human beings.
You thought this was repugnant?!
Well, think again because this was only the beginning. What was left unspoken is what repugnance is really about.

I will confess that I was bracing myself for worse and even though for many of you some scenes were horrifying, I know that this was nothing compared with the horrors that have happened in that period of time.
We learn about it in school, we know about it from books, there are movies and documentaries that will break your heart, because (I repeat) nothing hurts more than knowing that these things happened, it's not fiction - it's history, one written in blood and suffering... and death.

This story touched me in a way I could barely explain. I felt so much disgust and anger that I could tear the book apart. It gave me so many goose bumps that I didn't remember for a quite while how smooth skin felt like.
Yes, you were all right; this is a powerful story, full of emotion, that will make your soul bleed and your eyes tear.

It's strange how can you find love and hope in such a hopeless place... The story was not as brutal as I thought it would be, but it broke my heart in many other ways:
It was their hope that broke me down, their smiles, their jokes, and Lina's memories from long gone happy times (As a side note I should mention how much I loved the transition from present to past, how one scene melted into another, how the past faded right in front of my eyes).
It was the love that killed me softly, it was seeing that those broken hearts could still find inside them the force to care when there wasn't almost any good left for them in the world.
And it was their force to keep going that made me love this book, because they were stronger when their body was weak, when their life was fading away, when they still held tightly to their dreams - even though they knew those were never to come true again.

The cover is absolutely perfect - It shows all the hope that filled their hearts, even when some of them were giving up their last breath. It reveals a piece of the settling, but also it shows that in all that coldness with which they were treated very few people showed them (just a bit of) mercy.

The characters are so complex and they bring so much into this story - from the bald man with his pessimistic thoughts, to the little children so full of life and hope (too young, too innocent to know the cruelty of this world).
It moved me how dramatically all those people changed through the story: kids had to grow up and help the others in order to survive, old people had to hold on to their memories to keep going, parents had to sacrifice everything for their children. They had to keep inside their fury, their hate and their shame. They had to keep their head down even though they were the ones deserving respect, because even when they had nothing at all, they still had hope and they fought for their life at all costs.

I need to mention Lina an Andrius, as their love was sparkling like a tiny star thought the darkest, clouded night sky. It gave hope and strength and made my heart ache just a little bit less.
"Andrius, I'm ... scared"
He stopped and turned to me. "No. Don't be scared. Don't give them anything, Lina, not even your fear."

Through the story, Lina saw the world and she described it in her sketches. Drawing was a way to express her fear, the injustice, the pain and the ache. That was her way of coping; gathering strength through her hope that some day her father will be able to reach them.

I'll leave you now with some of my favorite quotes as I don't have the force to describe this book any longer. This is not a story that you can talk about; you can only read it between tears and maybe find some colors between so many shades of gray.
“I’ll see you”

“Are you really on page 300 or are you skipping ahead now?”

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.”

Reviewer notes:
I loved the author notes as they gave so much depth to the story and now I feel the need to leave my owns notes here, because even though I can't really conceive so much suffering, I can at least somehow understand it (though probably on a lower level that I might even think).
“How could Stalin simply take something that didn’t belong to him, something that a farmer and his family had worked their whole life for?”
“That’s communism, Lina”, Papa said.

Living in a country placed between Germany and Russia, our history has been marked (with dark ink) by those two as well. I know what communism means and I even know a bit how it 'felt'. I was too young to understand what was happening but old enough to keep memories of my grandparents working the field each day, but only being allowed to keep some (very few) fruitage for themselves.

But if for me it is sad to think about those times when we were only allowed to buy rations of food (like half of a bread a day), I can't even conceive how hard it might have been for those people that were 'unlucky' enough to be thrown in the middle of that madness described in this book, forced to work in such horrible conditions, humiliated and treated like animals, and even die horrible deaths while nobody cared.

As the author says, there is nothing that we can do now to change the past, but we can learn from it, and we can prevent such horrors from ever happening again.

While reading the book I listened to the soundtrack, which is as amazing as the story itself and I recommend it with all my heart.

This review can also be found at


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Later Edit:

Movie? Really?!
Oh.. I don't know if to be happy or scared.
I LOVED the book, hopefully I will enjoy it on the big screen too ^_^

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Quotes Ari Liked

Ruta Sepetys
“He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot.
We were about to become cigarettes.”
Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.”
Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
“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, Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
“Good men are often more practical than pretty " said Mother. "Andrius just happens to be both.”
Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
“Tadas was sent to the principal today," announced Jonas at dinner. He wedged a huge piece of sausage into his small mouth.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because he talked about hell," sputtered Jonas, juice from the plump sausage dribbling down his chin.

"Jonas, don't speak with your mouth full. Take smaller pieces," scolded Mother.

"Sorry," said Jonas with his moth stuffed. "It's good." He finished chewing. I took a bite of sausage. It was warm and the skin was deliciously salty.

"Tadas told one of the girls that hell is the worst place ever and there's no escape for all eternity."

"Now why would Tadas be talking of hell?" asked Papa, reaching for the vegetables.

"Because his father told him that if Stalin comes to Lithuania, we'll all end up there.”
Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
“Sometimes kindness can be delivered in a clumsy way.”
Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
“Sometimes kindness can be delivered in a clumsy way. But it's far more sincere in its clumsiness than those distinguished men you read about in books. Your father was very clumsy.”
Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
“We'd been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean.”
Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Reading Progress

Finished Reading (Paperback Edition)
March 30, 2011 – Shelved
April 7, 2012 – Started Reading
April 14, 2012 – Shelved as: emotional
April 14, 2012 – Shelved as: favorites
April 14, 2012 – Shelved as: historical
April 14, 2012 – Finished Reading
December 19, 2012 – Shelved as: beloved
April 20, 2013 – Shelved as: rereading-material
May 15, 2013 – Shelved as: best-of
September 24, 2014 – Shelved (Paperback Edition)
November 9, 2014 – Shelved as: recenzii-ro (Paperback Edition)
December 10, 2014 – Shelved as: standalone
December 26, 2014 – Shelved as: movie-to-be
February 3, 2019 – Shelved as: top-ten

Comments Showing 1-45 of 45 (45 new)

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Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Did you see the new paperback cover? So pretty. I had to order a copy right away.

message 2: by Jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jo ♥ I hope you love this one, Ari. :)

message 3: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari Maja wrote: "Did you see the new paperback cover? So pretty. I had to order a copy right away."

Yes, it's absolutely beautiful. I miss the thorns (hope that's the right word) from this one, but you are right - I love it!

Jo wrote: "♥ I hope you love this one, Ari. :)"

I hope that too. No, I know that I must will love it.

message 4: by Alyssa (new) - added it

Alyssa I am so desperate to read this one, but I promised myself I'd only pick it up when I could get my hands on the paperback -- which, yeah, is BEAUTIFUL.

Hope you enjoy it, Ari! :)

Aly (Fantasy4eva) this book is beautiful. But tough to read at parts. Hope you love it Ari :)

message 6: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari Judging by the fact that I'll be traveling for the next 2 weeks, I didn't pick the best moment to start these books, but if I won't have time for reading, I'll do that when I come back ;))
But I really hope to love this book too, as I've been meaning to read it for a while.

Sonya I hope you'll enjoy it. :-) Where are you going? Enjoy your vacation, Ari! :-)

message 8: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari I'm visiting old friends and then spending Easter (as we celebrate it this next weekend) with my husband's parents.
I got to read only a bit from this book, can't wait to get back to it ;))

Sonya Have a nice trip, Ari! :-)

Reynje Beautiful review for such a powerful book, Ari.

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

Ari Thanks, hun, I really loved this book and I'm still thinking about it. I need something fluffy to get my mood up again ;))

Aly (Fantasy4eva) it was incredibly tough to read at parts. I remember dreading rereading it because the first time i read it i just remember a whole lot of anxiousness and sadness. I needed to reread it in order to review it. And it touched me in a different way the second time around.

I get it when you say:
'Lina an Andrius, as their love was sparkling like a tiny star thought the darkest, clouded night sky. It gave hope and strength and made my heart ache just a little bit less.'

because things are often so bleak and you are often so terrified with them, that seeing this love, this capability to love when all seems lost, is completely beautiful and it really gives you hope.

At the time, it really does feel like a little spark of light that is so valuable in these dark times.

It's terrifying to think how close they came to erasing this part of history, of what happened to them.
so I commend the author telling this story. there is no better way to reach people.

beautiful review ari <3

message 13: by Dija (new)

Dija Amazing review, Ari! :)

message 14: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari Thanks, girls.
I will read it again too, because knowing what happens I will be able to focus more on other things. The first time around, all you want to know is how it ends, if those people will survive, or if their hope will be lost.. but i need to spend more time with the other characters, because they all had something to add to this story.

I can't put into words how much this story touched my heart - it made me want to cry and laugh in the same time and still gives me goose bumps only for thinking about it.

message 15: by Sonya (last edited Apr 20, 2012 06:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sonya Love this review! And thanks for the link. I didn't know there was soundtrack for this book. I am listening to it right now. I'm still listening the first track, but I can already say the whole album is amazing! They are moving and fit the book perfectly. I have to reread this soon.

message 16: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari Sonia wrote: "Love this review! And thanks for the link. I didn't know there was soundtrack for this book..."

I've seen it mentioned in the giveaway hosted here on GR, on the book's page ("Giveaway also includes a CD copy of the music soundtrack for the book!" but it's only available for US, CA, UK, AU).
Off course I had to look for it and I was lucky as it has been released this spring, I think. I really love it, I've been listening to it on my kindle while reading ♥

Sonya I am listening to Between Shades of Gray(the last soundtrack). Love it! I'll listen to this while rereading :-)

message 18: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari Sonia wrote: "I am listening to Between Shades of Gray(the last soundtrack). Love it! I'll listen to this while rereading :-)"

That's my favorite :) Well, in fact they are all my favorites as they fit so well the feeling of the story.

message 19: by Renu (new) - added it

Renu Beautiful review, Ari. I'm one of the few people who has yet to read this, but I promised myself that I would change that this year. I'm hoping to pick it up in Feb! :)

Thangaprakash Sengodan Excellent analysis and comments.. thanks a lot.. i am currently reading this book..

message 21: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari Thanks! I hope that you are enjoying it so far. Can't wait to see what you think of it too.

As for you, Renu, how's your reading plan going? :p
I know the feeling, I have books that have been waiting for months and I still can't read them, but I plan to.. maybe the next month ;))

ari ❀ I had felt the same way about the book.

message 23: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari I am glad you liked it too, Ariana ^_^
You got me a bit confused here with the name changing, LOL!

ari ❀ Omg, lol! Srry about hat... i don't know what happened, one day I had one name and the next i had realized that it had changed!

ari ❀ I had changed the name to make it less confusing:)

gabrielle Such a good book!

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

Ari Absolutely! I loved it!

Sarina I bought it under your recommendation, Ari, though I have yet to read it... -_-

message 29: by Ari (last edited Aug 03, 2014 01:58AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari I saw you are currently reading it still ;))

Sarina Hmm...on hiatus... Reading other books...

Arlene I want to see this book made into a movie. It's a beautiful story.

Amazing review Ariana!

message 32: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari Thanks, Arlene :)
I want that too, and more than that I want it to be a good movie (because so many ecranisation lack dept and miss the heart of the story).

message 33: by Giedre (new) - added it

Giedre I am very happy and proud to see that Ruta Sepetys is becoming so big with this book about my motherland. And your review Ariana is just amazing. thank you x

message 34: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari This is in fact an old review, I just added the news about the movie, but thanks you for your words. I am just as happy when I travel and see this book translated in so many languages (well, including my own) - it is absolutely beautiful and it deserves all the attention it got over the time.

message 35: by Rebbie (new)

Rebbie This is one of the most touching reviews I've ever read.

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

Ari Rebbie wrote: "This is one of the most touching reviews I've ever read."

For me this story was deeply emotional, I loved it to pieces and I am glad if people can really see that from reading my review :) Thank you!

Angeliz Alvarez When is the movie being released? I know it's 2017 but is there an actual date yet?

message 38: by Ari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ari Angeliz wrote: "When is the movie being released? I know it's 2017 but is there an actual date yet?"

I don't know actually. I think it's due this autumn, but I am not sure, I could be wrong. You can ask the author on her FB page, she usually answers in a quick manner :)
I am eager to see it too :D

Yeohyun Jung This book seems to be a paradox. It is filled with horrible and brutal stories which makes me angry but it's wonderful and beautiful. It's such a huge oxymoron. I think this is because of Ruta Sepety's ability to organize the story well. And through this book, I could learn tragic history, displacement of Lithuania. For the first time, I learned history and sympathized victims by reading a novel. It was literally novel experience. I partially agree to the title, Between shades of Gray, because it handles a sad past. But I could recognize and notice some beautiful and bright colors when reading the part of love. I was impressed by author's story development. Continually moving the feeling of love, sadness of history/death and despair. Therefore, I could concentrate more deeply. It retains two attributes, history-based and novel. It is a real novel full of wonderfulness and history-based full of reality. Currently, I'm reading her another novel, Salt to the sea. She is just a master of historic novel! I really love these books.

Donghyun Lee So did I, I really enjoyed reading this book. As you mentioned in this comment, "there is nothing that we can do now to change the past, but we can learn from it, and we can prevent such horrors from ever happening again", I think this was what the author wanted to say to readers by a long story of Lina's family and others. I also could think about meaning of the title, "Between Shades of Gray". I think that this title means not only the place where Lina's family and others live, but also it means that there is a shining hope between shades of gray. After reading this book, since I am Korean and there had been a similar history in Korea, so I thought about the hardship and adversity that Koreans had experienced. It was hard to imagine the pain they had and I felt sorry for them and thank you for protecting our country. And as the government has changed recently, I hope Japan apologize to the people who were Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.
Lastly, as the author said, we should look back to our history, and find out what we have done wrong and prevent from letting it happens again.
I really loved this book! Thank you, great historical novelist, Ruta Sepetys! One of the best books I have read.

Yunje Jang First of all, this was one of the best book that I have read!! I was really enjoyed reading the book. During I read your comment of the book, I was thinking same with your opinion. Like the part which you mentioned in your comment that nothing that we could change the past, but we can learn from it. I think this is why we learn history and read historical novels. I was really surprise about Lithuania and Soviet Union's relationship. Because it was really same with Korea and Japan's. Since I'm the Korean, I could think about our country's horrible history. At that time, during the World war two, Korean were having hard time like Lina's family. So I could concentrate more than other readings. I think that, the war should not happen in any another reasons. I could learn many things by reading books. Also it was really fun to read it!

ChanyeongKim The review that you posted was amazing! I can feel your enthusiasm in your review!!!! Actually, among the quotations that you wrote, -“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.” by Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray- this sentence was really touching. It made me realize there is no benefit for war. Korea, the country that I live in, was one of the victims during the World War 2 and has the same agony like colonization and deportation. It was fun to read your review, Thank you.

message 43: by Ahn (last edited Jun 25, 2017 08:20AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ahn Do Yeon I also enjoyed reading this book like you. I could agree with most of your opinion. I also know about World War 2 because I studied in school but actually I did not know so much about Lithuania. But through this book, I was really curious about Lithuania at that time, so I researched about it. And I could know some historical background and I could understand Lina's feeling more deeply. And I really love this book because it makes me 'feel' the horrible situation in World War 2. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and try not to repeat it. I really appreciate to writer to write such a great story. In addition, while I read this bool, I thought that Lithuania and Korea is really similar. If you want to know please read 'When my name was Keoko'. Thank you for sharing your opinion about 'Between shades of Gray'. I think this is a really great book!

message 44: by Jiwon (new)

Jiwon Hwang I also enjoyed this book. From a writing and character point of view, Between Shades of Gray does a solid job delivering as a work of historical fiction. Told from Lina’s first person perspective, we watch and experience everything that unfolds through eyes. To that end, much of the novel hinges on Lina’s development as a character and the strength of her narration – and both elements, I’m happy to say, are executed beautifully. Lina is a heroine that is both relatable and strong, and grows from ignorantly headstrong to the one person that can keep her family together as the months and years unfold. I also love the thread of art that runs throughout the book, and Lina’s skill as an artist, her love for the works of Munch, and the hope she imbues in her sketches – to leave clues for her father, yes, but also to tell the story of her family and other Lithuanians as they are systematically deported and disappear. Other characters, particularly Lina’s beautiful and educated mother, are given similar depth and heft, and make Between Shades of Gray a much more rounded, powerful read.

Wonmi You really seem to have great affection to this book, I admire that you have your strong opinion about this book. I was so impressed by this book too.
This book makes us share the same indirect experience together. I could think about the role of books as a means of communication.

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