Thursday 20 March 2014

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Publication date: April 1st, 2011
Publisher: Puffin Books
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository
Stars: 4.5/5
Source: Two lovely people (Thanks a ton xD)
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.


I have seen this book around but never thought to pick it up. I figured it would be
too intense
a difficult read
so involving, I'd get lost in it
and given the current Semester's workload, I've been seeking refuge in "easy" and predictable books with the kind of wit, banter and plot arcs that I've grown so comfortable with, the repetitiveness ceases to bother me.

But when two really good bookie friends of mine gifted Between Shades to me for my birthday, it felt like the choice had been made for me! And I'm glad.

Between Shades of Gray was too intense. There were parts where I had to blink away tears or worse, felt too numb to react. It was not an easy read but it was an important one; capturing a part of history, of Lithuanians forcibly deported to Siberian work camps by the NKVD during World War II, that I wasn't aware of. It was a story that needed to be told and couldn't have been put across in a better way.

The book also got so involving, it broke through my reluctance- completely quite possibly stemming out of nothing short of indolence- to read something that grabbed every bit of my attention and made me feel for real. It dares to infuse beauty and meaning into the period when the darkest and most cruel side of human nature was exposed. It crushes you with the enormity of the hardships these people had to shoulder and how even then, many refuse to crumble. 

The protagonist, Lina, is just fifteen years old at the time when she, along with her mother and brother are deported in a train labeled "Thieves and Prostitutes". Her perspective holds both innocence and incredible strength. It's heartbreaking how she is forced to grow up in a work camp; in such brutal, unforgivable conditions. And yet, she does. Despite being reduced to a state of near-starvation and constant worry for the people around her, she still has spirit. 

Lina's a gifted artist, and despite Soviet rules barring them to do so, she never stops drawing about the injustices they are forced to undergo. She never stops trying to get messages to her father, who is separated from them. She never stops hoping and fighting and loving. Her journey, with flashbacks to life before the deportation that are seamlessly integrated, is heartbreaking. The kind of bonds formed and the togetherness that exists among the deportees; the fabric of strength maintained by the adults for their children and their individuality despite the NKVD grouping them as "cattle" was astounding. 

Wonderfully written in a sharp, almost cinematic manner, with well-fleshed out, memorable characters, this book will, indeed, as the blurb says, "steal your breath and capture your heart." 

Rating: ★★★★1/2


  1. I have read so many glowing reviews and like you I have been hesitant to read it because I struggle with emotional reads, I need to put on my big girl panties and just read it.

  2. Oh, good, I'm glad you liked this, it's an all-time favorite of mine. So well written, Ruta is truly amazing.

  3. Yay! I'm so glad you liked this! :D

  4. I enjoyed this one and agree that it was a very emotional read.

  5. Aww, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!! there were many rave reviews, like you I was little hesitant to pick it up. I need to gather up and read it soon'ish. Wonderful review, Pooja!! (:
    -Ini @ Ini's Ravishing Reads

  6. This really does sound wonderful and I have no problem reading intense, difficult books like this so I'm going to try and read it soon!

  7. pretty nice blog, following :)


HI. Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment. :)