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 😛 ) **