Review: Between Shades Of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Audiobook Version)

Yesterday we discussed books that get us out of reading slumps and I mentioned that my last read of 2011 just got me out of the most epically huge reading slump that I’ve had in a long time. This book right here is the one that got my mojo back… 🙂

Title/Author: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Publisher/Year: Philomel; March 2011
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
How I Got It: Borrowed it via my library’s Overdrive program for audiobooks

I was asking for suggestions from Twitter about good audiobooks to listen to since over the holidays I would be traveling in the car for a total of 8 hours by myself to get to my dad’s house. Miss Remmer’s suggested Between Shades of Gray and I decided that would be the one since it’s one I had really wanted to read since it came out and I saw great reviews for it. As I mentioned in my top ten books of 2011 post, this ended up being one of my favorite reads this year and it was really a great pick for my travels — albeit a little sad and I ended up crying at some parts in the car.

Between Shades of Gray takes place in Lithuania in 1939 and chronicles the moment that 16 year old Lina’s life changes when Stalin’s Russia invades their country and forces her family, among many others, into labor camps. Lina and her family fight to keep hope and survive throughout their deportation and life in the labor camps in the most deplorable of conditions where they are treated as though they are animals — all the while hoping to reunite with their father again and live to see their home again.

Between Shades of Gray is a book that cannot be ignored. This novel was heartwrenching and I mean that in the most literal way I possibly can. It hurts my heart in that this REALLY happened to people and Sepetys was able to capture the stories of many who had to live through this and really embody their fight through the story of Lina and her family. I felt the same way reading this that I did reading Night by Elie Wiesel or The Diary of Anne Frank. Though this book is fictional, I felt the same sort of anguish knowing that human beings had to suffer in this way. It was eye opening to me. I consider myself a lover of history and I can honestly say I really didn’t know this had happened. I think most learn of Hitler and the concentration camps but the brutality of the Soviets and the labor camps in Siberia seem to never come up as much. Or maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention in history class?

Not only was the history heartwrenching to me but the way Ruta Sepetys wrote this story really impacted me. I cared deeply and connected to these characters. I wanted them to survive. I felt their fear, their anger and their will to live. The scenes were vivid, the people were alive and I would find myself physically tensing up and feeling very emotional during certain scenes. These is one of the most emotional reads I have ever encountered and it was done so perfectly. It wasn’t contrived. The real stories of real people spoke through this novel and you could feel the weight of it all.

It might seem like from my review that this novel is just super depressing. That’s the thing — it’s not. There is so much hope, love and resilience within these pages and for every moment I felt sickened by humanity, I also felt invigorated by our will to fight, to live, to maintain our dignity and to love. There was hope and it was really beautiful. I love the idea of the title of this novel and the notion of “between shades of gray”…that’s how this novel was. For all the darkness, there was little slivers of beauty and hope. This was one powerful story and I know it is one that will stick with me for a very long time. There are so many memorable characters and relationships in this book. I love the relationship between Lina and Andrus, Lina’s mother and her children and Lina’s mother and pretty much everyone…especially the one officer. That touching scene between Lina and the officer towards the end (when she is trying to steal firewood) just was so beautiful and complicated and broke me down.

Parts of this are really hard to read/listen to but I personally didn’t find it to be excessively violent or descriptive. I mean, it’s really hard to read about these atrocities and brutality but I don’t think it’s told in a way that makes it too hard to handle. It will be emotional and really hard to think about people enduring but I think there is balance in the way it is told. But I’m not someone who easily shies away from difficult subject matter.

The only thing I wish would have been better about this book was about how it ended. When the epilogue happened (as I was listening to it) I couldn’t believe it was over! I don’t know if I would have been as surprised had I been reading it  but even so…I wanted to know HOW everything was resolved though the epilogue did a nice job of giving us the details we wanted to know (like about Andrus!). Maybe it’s I cared too much that I wanted to see the whole story through. I’m not sure.

As An Audiobook:

I thought this was really well done on audiobook and the story worked really well in this format. It captured my attention in the fullest while navigating the highways and I never had to go back to clear up any confusions. The narrator did the voices pretty well and it was easy to distinguish between the many casts of characters. Her pace was perfect for me. The only thing I found to be a bit difficult sometimes was that the story would switch to memories of the past and it would, in some cases, take a minute or two to figure out that it was a past memory. This mostly happened in the beginning as in the end it was easier to distinguish between the scenes as they were drastically different.

The Bottom Line: Between Shades of Gray makes my top ten books of 2011 for a reason and is high up there in a best books EVER list. It is powerful in both the historical foundation for the story and in the storyline itself. I loved the characters and cried my little heart out all along the way — tears of anger, of sadness and of joy in some places. It’s one of those books that I just sat there soaking it all in after finishing it. This will stick with me for a long time. It’s raw, poignantly told and will capture your attention and leave you wanting to learn more about this slice of history. This is a book I think teens and adults will both find special. I am so thankful I read this because this story is one that needs to be heard. Highly recommended on audiobook.

You’ll like it if….

  • You like historical fiction — especially that during World War II or any thing relating to concentration camps or labor camps
  • powerful stories that will stick with you for a long time. I assure you that I will be thinking on this book for a long time to come.
  • stories that deal with some heavy emotions but also show human triumph, beauty and hope.

** Review On A Post-It  to come…I’m at work 😛 ) **

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About Jamie

Jamie is a 30 year old married lady who is in denial that she’s actually that old. When she’s not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, listening to music with oversized headphones and having adventures with her husband and dog.


  1. Miss Anderson says:

    I just finished this one and posted my review today, as well! I loved it, but thought the ending was a bit abrupt. I did the Overdrive audio version, too, and also found the narration confusing when she would switch to flashbacks. There were moments when I wondered why they had food, or why papa was still around, or why a party was going on. I appreciated why those scenes were there, though, and thought this was a very important book. Glad you loved it so much, I'm hoping to see it win some awards this year!

  2. Midnyte Reader says:

    I'm so glad you are now out of your reading slump. I think that historical fiction books are so important so that people in future generations can understand that real people went through this heartache, not just as an abstract concept.

  3. I have seen so many great things about this book. I dont usually read serious stuff, I think b/c I'm always distracted by sparkly vampires and stuff like that. i'm not opposed to reading about serious subjects though.

    When you described that it made you feel like you did when you read the diary of ann frank it reminded me of another similar book I read back when i was young.. I only remember something about stars in the title.. I'm drawing a complete blank. I love when books remind me of ones I was touched by as a child. That book, I loved it so much…. so darn much I can't remember the stupid title. lol Grr, it's gonna bother me I can't think it.

    I think I would like this book. At the very least it will be a challenge for me. I need to give myself breaks from the happy lovey fluffy stuff every once and a while.

    Glad your back from your slump! 🙂 hope you had a wonderful christmas

  4. Asheley (@BookwormAsheley) says:

    I'm so glad you found a book to get you out of the slump. I find it so interesting that some of your favorite books are the harder books like this – maybe not the same genre, but the tougher ones to swallow – this one, Wither, etc. Beautiful writing with severe emotion. I think that sometimes we can tell a lot about a person by what they read and this speaks a lot to me about you. I always *love* your book choices.

    I'm not sure if I could do this one on audio. I might have to actually do this one in print.

    Love your thoughts, as always. 🙂

  5. I agree that this book can't and shouldn't be ignored. Sounds like you loved it as much as I did. I also wanted a more detailed ending. Will link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  6. Molli @ Once Upon a Prologue says:

    I adore books such as this one, books that shake you out of your reading slump. I will have to considering reading this!

  7. This book also woound up on my faovrites of 2011. I agree with you that it emoked so many emotions other than just depression. Your reivew is so well written and you express your feelings about this book much better than I expressed mine. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I just finished this book yesterday. I was similarly in a slump, nothing I started captured me and so I tried a sample of this on my kindle. I finished it in two days! I love love loved this. The hope and love especially during all the terrible things they were put through just broke my heart. Even though this was on the sadder side I know I'm going to read it again. I'm glad it got you out of your slump!!

  9. Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick says:

    Oh, I just loved this book as well! It's an incredible story, so heart-wrenching and written beautifully. Such a moving story, and I learned quite a bit that I never knew before.

  10. I love this book so much! I read it earlier this year and had kind of forgotten about it. Now I want to go lend it out to everyone I know again.

  11. TheBookGirl says:

    Wow, that is some great endorsement 🙂

    Isn't it such a great feeling when you stumble on a book that makes you feel this way! Unfortunately, it often makes the next book read suffer miserably in comparison, lol.

    Hoe you enjoy your New Year's weekend.

  12. I don't always like Historical Fiction YA, but this one was so so so good! So glad you felt the same way! And I'm going to have to try this one as an audio book too. 😉


  13. Helen's Book Blog says:

    I think Shades of Gray is fantastic, so glad you enjoyed it!

  14. christa @ mental foodie says:

    I just finished this and I couldn't agree with you more, from this is going to be in my top reads of 2011 and also wish there's a little more to the ending!

  15. Miss Remmers says:

    I am so glad you enjoyed this audio! Happy New Year!

  16. Wow. Just… Wow. And yes. I read this one a little while ago and I think more stories like this NEED to be told. And it's not that you weren't paying attention in history class, we really just don't talk/learn as much about Russia's version of the Holocaust. It's definitely a book that NEEDS to be read. Everywhere.

  17. This book is patiently waiting on my bookshelf to be read. I haven’t read it yet. Maybe I’ll be able to in 2013. lol. I haven’t read ANY audio books. I’m not sure I’d be able to… I could see it now, I’d be on a treadmill walking and get caught up in the audio book and stop walking and the treadmill would kick me off. ha ha!

    Great Review! I subscribed to your blog by email so now I’ll get them every time you update! yay! Can’t wait to see other reviews!

  18. YYYEEEEEESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!! I absolutely LOVE between the shades of gray!!! It was a barnes and noble impulse buy and it’s one of the BEST books I’ve ever read. Even if you don’t like historical fiction I still STRONGLY recommend it! Finally just got my mom to read when she was travelling and she loved it too. Great detailed review, if you are looking at this book, DON’T HESITATE!!!! (apologies for my virtual screaming and dramaticness)

    • HAHA I love your screaming and dramaticness!! THIS BOOK. SO GOOD. I bawled. I really liked her book Out of Easy as well — I didn’t love it as much as I loved this one but still good!


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