Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Catharsis and Hope that Lies In Between Shades of Gray

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,'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.



by Ruta Sepetys

between shades of gray

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!


  1. Sad and powerful books can sometimes be the best ones. Thanks for your review.

  2. Great, great review Carolina with so many truths. I'm sorry you lost sleep writing it.

    I'm definitely going to add this to my list from your review. I'm Jewish and as a kid read a lot of books about similar experiences. And you are so right, it's important that we don't forgot how these type of horrors can still occur. Thanks for sharing about this book rather than one of the lighter, popular stories out there.

  3. I'm glad you found the words. That was worth hearing.

  4. This book sounds interesting because it is about Lithuania. There are so many books about Germany and Austria in WWII that we forget many of the other nations involved.

    And these kinds of horrors are still happening. Maybe not in the Western world, and maybe not heard of through the media, but they happen. It's hard to come to terms with.

    Sad books are definitely worth it. I loved (the film, thought the book is on my TBR list) The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and that was one heck of a sob fest - but such a beautiful film.

    On a happier note, thanks for following my new blog project!

  5. You're so humble. I love how you go on about how you couldn't find the words, couldn't come up with something to say that was deserving of this book ... and then you go on and write the best review I've seen so far.

    I already would have been getting this one, because I have a thing for sad books, but now I'm getting it even sooner (since you've also never once steered me wrong).

    Also, you used the word Catharsis in your post title. That's almost as cool as macking.

  6. Thank you for sharing your review of this book. I'm going to add it to my TBR book list. I'll also make sure to pick up a box of tissues.

    Blogger is giving me problems with commenting, again.

    Susanne Drazic

  7. Powerful review. The inhumanity of humanity. You did just fine, in fact, amazingly in finding the right words for this review.

  8. Congrats on your 200th post!!! Woohoo!

    I'll admit, I'm scared of this book, of the tear I know that I'll shed in reading it, but you know what? You've moved me to give it a try anyway, to open myself up to it, what an amazing definitely found the words and did them justice. Thank you for that!

    And now, ANOTHER book added to my TBR bookanistas are dangerous to a book addict, in all the right ways of course. :P

  9. I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this one. I gave it to my history teacher husband to read. That was over a month (or more?) ago and he is STILL talking about it. He LOVED it! :-)

  10. This one sounds very powerful. It's going on my to read list for certain! Thank you for another amazing recommendation.

  11. I sobbed through this book...and I agree, it's powerful, meaningful, heartbreakingly beautiful. A must-read.

    Love and hugs,

  12. I'll be reading this, but I need to go stock up on Kleenex first. Thanks so much for the lovely description!

  13. Happy 200th post! You know, I didn't even need to read your review to want to read this book. My eyes teared up reading the blurb for it alone. Which is weird, because I'm not usually blubbery. (Probably has to do with the fact that I accidentally stayed up reading IF I STAY last night, which had me balling...)

    But then I read your review anyway, and before even leaving this comment I ordered the book online. I might need a peptalk before reading it, because it sounds like my heart is going to be all twisted and broken. But it also sounds like something I'd really miss out on if I let it pass me by.

  14. I've been wanting to read this book for a while now. This was a great review. I think you put it into words beautifully.

  15. I know exactly how you feel about this book! I reviewed it a little while back. Beautiful in it's lyrical simplicity and shocking in the things left unsaid. Loved it.

    Check it out here:

  16. Gorgeous review, Carol!! *adds book to my Goodreads* Yup, I just have to read this one!!

  17. Can I just say DITTO to all the posters above? This book was already on my list of books to get, but honestly, I wasn't sure if I wanted to deal with a sad book during the summer. Then I realized by me holding off on reading it and turning away from the sometimes ugliness of our history, was no better than those who sat and did nothing during these kinds of horrific events. So, Amazon says I'll get it on Saturday. (And happy 200th post!!!!)

  18. You found just the right words!
    Congrats on your 200th post!!

  19. Cee, you have most definitely hit this one out of the park.

    As a community nurse a few years ago I had the pleasure of nursing an elderly Lithuanian gentleman who, as a young man in WW2 was torn from his family by the very same Russian forces depicted in this book and was sent to work on the Road of Bones in far Eastern Russia. As a prisoner of Stalin there. He witnessed unspeakable atrocities and was himself subjected to routine torture by his captors. Prisoners routinely died on the Road and were simoly buried into the Road itself.

    Over several cups of tea and beautiful cookies that his wife baked especially for my weekly visits he would recount those stories and I would listen with absolute reverence.

    He was eventually liberated from the Road and came to Australia as a refugee. He made a life here, gained employment at the local Holden plant (where he worked for forty plus years) built a home and raised a family.

    He was a beautiful, generous and kind soul and I felt very privileged to have known him.

    This is undoubtedly an important and unmissable book. I will be getting it.

    God Bless you Cee.

  20. I've never heard of this book before--it sounds like a powerful story! Thank you for the review.

    Congrats on 200 posts! :)

  21. Congrats on your 200th post!

    I too read this book and fell in love (though it almost seems wrong to say so).

    I loved your review, it reminded me about how I felt when I first read the book.

  22. Great review Carolina... for a person struggling to find the words, you sure did an amazing job.

    Thx again.

  23. Woot 200! You always find the words, but the problem is, I want to read everything you review! I need a babysitter, and a winning lotto, and to turn back time so I can be younger and have more time to read...ah well, I'll just forgo cleaning:) This one sounds awesome!

  24. Oh, sweet mother of yes, m'dear. Brilliantly said. Those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it, and all that.

    The untold stories are always important.

  25. Great review! I have to avoid this book though, I've read too many on this topic as I am Russian and have a diploma in history. But saying that, I know someone who I can recommend it to, so thank you!

  26. This right here sold me:

    "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."

    I know this review didn't come easily, but it was worth the effort for those words, Carol.

  27. This why I love books that force me out of my usual paranormal escape comfort zone: "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?"

    It's on my TBR list.

  28. I've heard this book is powerful. If I have to read it, I'll have to be in the right frame of mind.

  29. Oh my goodness, this review is stunning. I got teary just reading your words.

    My fave line is "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."

    Beautiful writing!

  30. I really need to get around to reading this. Thanks for the reminder. I know what you mean about the confusion factor; it's happened to me at the bookstore too!


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