I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a few months, but I suspected that the content was going to be heavy so it took me a while to pick it up. Between Shades of Gray tells the story of Lina, a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl living in 1941. Lina, her mother, and brother are taken from their home in the middle of night, forced into train cars, and sent to a labor camp in a remote area of freezing Siberia. Lina and her family must endure horrific experiences and near impossible circumstances to survive the harsh conditions they are faced with. An artist, Lina uses her skills to cope and also reach out in a secretive way to find her father who has been sent to a prison camp in another part of Siberia.
This was a horribly beautiful book. I’ve read a handful of WWII concentration camp/Nazi Germany books, but Between Shades of Gray was a bit of a different take on the subject. At first, with only having a general idea about what the book was about, I expected to learn through the first few pages that Lina and her family were Jewish. But instead, this book focuses on Stalin’s labor camps, rather than Hitler’s concentration camps.
There is a sweet romance that happens, it’s certainly not the most important storyline of the book, but provides a little breather from all the heavy content.
I listened to the audio version, the reader’s voice was wonderful and she did a great job changing her voice to help listeners distinguish between present moment and reflections from the past. I also enjoyed the author interview at the end of the book. Sepetys did a ton of research, multiple interviews with survivors, and took two trips to Lithuania while writing the book.
I would be giving this book five stars, but I was a little disappointed with the ending. I thought it ended abruptly and it left me feeling like there were 100-200 pages missing from it. I’ve no doubt that Sepetys could have written those 100-200 missing pages well. Despite the ending, overall I thought the book was wonderful. I feel that it’s a much needed addition to the WWII books already available for young adults, as this tells a part of history that has been relatively absent until now.
Parent’s guide: I would only give this book to mature readers.
- Sex: scenes describing people being forced to undress, descriptions of soldiers looking at and touching women, soldiers tell a mother she must sleep with them or they will kill her child, innocent kissing scene
- Violence: many instances of inhumane acts of brutality against humans, some people are shot, children dying, people starving, a lot of death
- Language: some common swear words and uses of the name of Diety, soldiers taunting and name calling of prisoners