Genres: YA Historical
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.
Just like all the reviews say, this is a story that absolutely needed to be told. When we think of atrocities committed against humankind during World War II, we think of the Holocaust, not Stalin’s deportation of millions of Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, and Finns in order to put them in prisons and labor camps–and eventually kill many of them. It’s something lost to the wilds of history. Sepetys brings it to the forefront in her novel about survival in hellish times.
From the very start, Sepetys establishes who her characters are and keeps them consistent throughout the novel. What they go through tears at your heart and as more people die, either of disease or because the Soviets shot them in the head, chills run up your spine. Sometimes, it all feels so bleak and hopeless and real. Unfortunately, some of it also feels rather detached and sanitized. The novel packs a strong emotional punch, but not as much of a punch as it should.
These characters never really grow, though. They’re well-established, sure. They harden, they survive, and sometimes they die, and we always care about what happens to them, but they never truly develop beyond who they are established to be at the start of the story. There’s not a plot to move the story along either, so without a character or a plot to drive the novel, it can be easy to put the novel down and not come back to it for a while. Still, as I tend to do with novels I’m rather disinterested in but still want to read, I was able to read it in large gulps here and there.
The ending is also very abrupt. We are carried from the end of their first winter in the Arctic Circle to fifty years later, when a time capsule is unearthed by Lithuanian construction workers and they find Lina’s words. We can surmise a little of what happened to her, but there are more questions than answers.It’s frustrating, really, and it doesn’t quite fit the story.
Still, I’d read more of Sepetys’s work thanks to her subtle characterization skills, which were observed in this book and in her upcoming release Out of the Easy (which I already read and OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, MY HEART! MY HEART!).