It's after 2 AM and I still haven't written my review. I've just sat here, staring, wondering why the words won't come to me. I've said it before--the books I've loved most are the hardest to review. And that definitely holds true with this one. But there's another problem, I think. I really, really want you to read it. So it feels like there's a lot more riding on this. Which is stupid. All you have to do is look at the other reviews on this book and WHOA. How could you not pick it up, right? But okay, the thing is you'll probably say to yourself, eh...it's historical. And sad. And literary. Shiver. "I don't do sad books," you might say.
Err. Okay. Well.
Between Shades of Gray is a book that sticks with you. That leaves an imprint on your chest, burning for days after. This book can change you. So bear with me, okay?
Please let me find the words. Please.
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY
by Ruta Sepetys
Summary: 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.
Often I try to relate the premises of books I review to typical occurrence in life. Bullying incidents, perhaps. Pants that split open, oversleeping and missing a test, the job that was given to someone else, et cetera. But how do you relate the premise of this story to anything in our lives today? How many know what it's like to have plans, like art school maybe and a cinnamon bun for breakfast, only to be ripped from home before the first bite and then loaded onto a packed cattle train, forced to lie in squalor and filth without food or a toilet for days? And then weeks. If you try to fight or run, you are killed. Maybe beaten up first and then shot brutally in the head. If you have family, you may be pulled from them. You may watch them die. All before you've had breakfast.
This was not an easy story to read. By chapter seven I was crying. And it had only just begun.
But imagine this life. Imagine the lives. This book is a story based on many stories. On real realities. On a history that has been denied and buried, lumped in with the rest of the skeletons in the closet. Sometimes we want to forget they exist. But there they remain, rattling, waiting to be heard. Ruta Sepetys has heard the rattling and has pulled the skeletons forth in the form of a YA novel. You can turn away from it, maybe pick up that one paranormal with the hot boy and the snappy dialogue that will crack you up. Or you can hold off on the paranormal for a day or two while you read Between Shades of Gray and cry along with me.
I know, I make it sound so enticing.
But you know what? Even if you're not from Lithuania, this is your history. It is a history of who we are and the pain that we can inflict on others. It is a history of humanity's inhumanity, of unadulterated fear and loathing and the abominable cry that goes unheard.
This story is beautiful, with a voice that carries you through. It is sometimes massive in scope, but often just the story of a girl in need. In love. In loss. In bravery. It is sometimes raw, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny. Sometimes eye opening and brutal for the things that fear and self-preservation can lead us to do to others. Though it's never really graphic, it is sometimes horrific, for the images that your own imagination can paint out of the words Lina is not saying. Of the things she does not necessarily know or understand.
But even in the horror, there is beauty and light, growth. A child maneuvering her way through murky adolescence to discover who she is, for even in the darkest of places, we will still long to know ourselves. In the midst of despair, there is still love and kindness. A spirit that cannot be broken. So for this, more than anything, Between Shades of Gray should be read. Are you looking for hope? You can find it here. You want to treasure the blessings in your life? You want to remember the true value and miracle of life and humanity--despite all the crap you must abide? Then read this book. You will come to understand that your existence is not hollow, that you are worthy of every breath you take. And in reading Lina's story, you can maybe even find that place of strength inside yourself, a place from which you can draw when you too are thrown into your own cattle train.
I fear history sometimes. If we're not careful, it can find it's way back to us in the form of repetition, of a new reality. So read this book. Read this book and weep with me. Feel the pain of our history. Hear the abominable cry and let it move you.
Be sure to check out what the other Bookanistas are highlighting today:
Elana Johnson gushes over Blood Magic
LiLa Roecker adores Hourglass
Christine Fonseca sings high praises for Possess – with giveaway
Shannon Messenger applauds A Need So Beautiful – with giveaway
Megan Miranda has a passion for Possession
Bethany Wiggins finds Bad Taste in Boys delicious
Shana Silver celebrates A Need So Beautiful
Stasia Ward Kehoe delights in Delirium
Carrie Harris thinks Wrapped simply rocks
Rosemary Clement-Moore is giddy about Hourglass
Sarah Frances Hardy finds the awesome in Okay for Now
Myra McEntire welcomes Blood Magic author Tessa Gratton into the Fort
P.S. This is my 200th post. Go me!