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Between Shades of Gray Paperback – April 3, 2012
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“A superlative first novel. A hefty emotional punch.”--The New York Times Book Review
“Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both.”--The Washington Post
"Beautiful…a superb though grueling novel.”--The Wall Street Journal
“An eye-opening reimagination of a very real tragedy written with grace and heart.”--Los Angeles Times
“An engrossing and poignant story of the fortitude of the human spirit in a dark time in Lithuanian history.”--Associated Press
“Brave Lina is a heroine young and old readers can believe in.”--Entertainment Weekly
“Please read this small window into a tragedy.”--NPR
“Beautifully written and researched, it captures the devastation of war while celebrating the will to survive.”--Family Circle
* “A harrowing page-turner.”--Publishers Weekly, starred review
* “A gripping story.”--School Library Journal, starred review
* “Bitterly sad, fluidly written…Sepetys' flowing prose gently carries readers.”--Kirkus, starred review
* "Beautifully written and deeply felt…an important book that deserves the widest possible readership.”--Booklist, starred review
“A haunting chronicle, demonstrating that even in the heart of darkness ‘love is the most powerful army.'”--The Horn Book Magazine
“Stalin deported and murdered millions, but he could not destroy the seeds of memory, compassion, and art that they left behind. From those seeds, Ruta Septeys has crafted a brilliant story of love and survival that will keep their memory alive for generations to come.”--Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of Speak and Wintergirls
“In terrifying detail, Ruta Sepetys re-creates World War II coming of age all too timely today. Between Shades of Gray is a document long overdue.”--Richard Peck, Newbery Award–winning author of A Year Down Yonder
“Between Shades of Gray is a story of astonishing force. I feel grateful for a writer like Ruta Sepetys who bravely tells the hard story of what happens to the innocent when world leaders and their minions choose hate and oppression. Beautiful and unforgettable.”--Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Newbery Honor–winning author of Hitler Youth
“Sepetys has penned a harrowing and heartbreaking novel. Beautifully written and important.”--Harlan Coben, international bestselling author of Shelter
About the Author
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“Sure, we were safe. Safe in the arms of hell.”
I don’t have a lot to say about this book because I just can’t. This book left me speechless. It was so fascinating how Ruta Sepetys wrote a tragic story to let us know the truth about the crimes of Stalin. I don’t even know how those people survived such terrible things, but as Ruta said, they had love and they survived through love. Not just love in a romantic way, it was love for a lot of things, especially their families.
I was hooked with the story since the first chapter. Ruta’s writing is beautiful, and even though this isn’t a love story (for me), it was beautiful in its own way. I liked how those people did almost the impossible to survive, to feed their children, to find their lost ones. There was sorrow, pain, suffering, loss, love but most important, there was hope. Every single death touched my heart, and when I read this book I had to hold my tears because if I started crying, I wouldn’t stop.
“Evil will rule until good men or women choose to act.”
As soon as I finished this I didn’t know what to do. You know, after reading such a tragic story is very hard to forget about it, to just pretend you didn’t read that ugly side of history… of humanity. History teachers should give this book to their students because I think is extremely important to know this side of the story… to know the truth. I know this is a story of fictional characters, but what makes it important is that this story reflects the true story that took the lives of 20 millions of innocent people, and that’s a LOT of people. I’m pretty sure most of us didn’t know this side of the story, and also we think our history classes failed us, but know you can educate yourself thanks to Ruta Sepetys.
I don’t encourage people to read this book because it is pretty or happy, because it isn’t. I encourage people because this story is important. It’s not always easy to write such a serious topic for young adults but I think Ruta did it and captured it perfectly.
During World War II, many Lithuanians lost their precious families and were forced to abandon their beloved homes. Their stories were told as they were seen, experienced and recorded by a fifteen year old Lithuanian girl, Lina. Lina's youth and homeland were stolen from her by Stalin's reign of terror.
Along with countless other Lithuanians, Lina and her family were abruptly removed from their beautiful and peaceful homes and sent on a harrowing and dehumanizing trip with the final destination being a Siberian prison camp. This book beautifully told the stories of some of the survivors and victims.
Lina, Jonas and Andrius cared for each other, protected one another and managed to scrape up little joys and small reasons to smile and hope. These actions and traits allowed them to persevere and survive.
The characters, both main and supportive, were multi dimensional and well developed.
Between Shades Of Gray is another story which needed to be told, experienced and remembered.
I kept pausing when I’d find myself thinking of my friend Kelli’s words while reading “Beneath Shades of Gray:” “My heart is broken.” And break my heart this quiet little story did. Words, other than Kelli’s, fail me. Having had a friend whose grandfather lived through this period, this place and time, I still had no real idea of what atrocities were committed, endured. I tried to go back to reading something else this morning and closed that book. I can’t bring myself to take those other words in just yet. While this is a fictional account, the atrocities were real.
It will, hopefully, take me some time before I find myself getting upset over my charger for my laptop shooting sparks enough so my laptop remained uncharged for the last several days. As it was, I managed to get a new charger ordered with a few clicks on my phone and problem solved. Truly, there are much worse things in life than we even want to think about. Or, to borrow thoughts from Kelli again, “lucky, lucky, lucky.”
Top international reviews
This book isn’t fast paced, it doesn’t display as openly the barbaric events many people endured, but rather it is quietly awful, describing the harrowing journey many Lithuanians were forced to endure on the path to, in many cases, their eventual demise. It’s what I like to describe as a “people” book - a book which shows the inner turmoil and conflict of individuals. And this book does it so so good.
The story is largely about Lina and her mother and brother as they are transported with many others in cattle cars to work for the NKVD however the NKVD sees fit. With no food, little by the way of warmth or shelter and not even adequate tools for the job, Lina and her family must dig on a beet farm. And don’t think for a second they were getting any beets.
What’s so brilliant, and emotionally intelligent, about this book is the untold stories underneath what Sepetys shows you. Many of the characters are not as they seem, many cope with unimaginable strength (like Lina’s mother who is the true hero of this story in many ways) and many do not cope at all. The quiet breaking of each one of the characters is so upsetting, but the resolve is something we can only hope is true to form. People can do the most incredible things for those they love and for the small glimpse of hope that brings them. Sepetys does a lot of showing rather than overt description and this need to read between the lines was what made it so compelling.
The story isn’t amazing in terms of action or plot, it has very little of each, but if this doesn’t hit you where it hurts I don’t know what could. The epilogue alone made me feel all kinds of distraught for the horrific unfairness of it all.
This is often said when describing books of this era, but it really is true that this book is important and you absolutely should read it. If only to have a perspective away from the more commonly told tales of Auschwitz and a new insight into the devastation caused by Stalin’s madness.
“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”
This was a harrowing and heartbreaking novel full of enduring hope in the face of absolute brutality and injustice. It was a testament to hope and love and kindness. I have always been gripped by historical fictions ever since I read books like Anne Frank’s Diary, the Devil’s Arithmetic, Night, and others about the holocaust, in school. I admit though, that I didn’t have any prior knowledge about the same horrors happening in other countries and to other peoples during that same period. This was a very educational read, as much as it was a poignant account of those who suffered under Soviet rule.
Sepetys writes in a simple, yet powerful and compelling way that made it difficult to put this book down. I dreaded having to leave for work in the morning because I knew I had to put it to the back of mind and I couldn’t wait to race home and pick it up again at days end. I thought that all the characters in the book were well written and many of them had believably mature personas that I oftentimes forgot that Lina was only a teenager and her brother Jonas, only a boy.
I greatly admired Lina’s strength of character throughout her story and her ability to keep hanging on to hope even in the most dire of circumstances and through the most debilitating of losses. Her strength and even youthful optimism in the face of adversity lent a lightness and much needed hopefulness to the situation that reminded me in ways of Anne Frank and her perception of her situation. Just as Anne did, I liked that rebellious Lina recorded events through her art and writing, despite the dangers of being discovered. Maybe it was selfish at times but it was also her way of ensuring that nothing was ever forgotten. What I also found very inspiring was that despite the amount of suffering that was inflicted upon Lina, her family and those around her, there was so much forgiveness and even kindness given to the enemy. All the characters felt so very much like family at the end and even the most frustrating/maddening characters managed to redeem themselves too.
Although I felt the ending came quite abruptly, I can see why it was done that way, and I thought it wrapped the story up on a positive note, giving readers hope that there will be a somewhat happy ending to this story after all.
This book made me think a lot about how despite having learned something from our history, it seems that we haven’t learned enough from it. There is still so much fear in people—fear of differences and of things that they don’t understand. It’s disheartening to know that there are still so many greedy, selfish and egotistical people in positions of power who use their words and actions to rouse hatred towards and stoke fear of others. But still, I believe in the power of human compassion and I stand with those who find the strength to step up against these types of people and their abhorrent actions. In her authors note at the end, Sepetys gave more background information to the Soviet massacre of over three million citizens of the Baltic states. I think the greatest lesson to be taken from this novel was beautifully summarized by her:
“Some wars are about bombings. For the people of the Baltics, this was was about believing. In 1991, after fifty years of brutal occupation, the three Baltic countries regained their independence, peacefully and with dignity. They chose hope over hate and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light... These three tiny nations have taught us that love is the most powerful army... —love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.”
This was a fast and beautifully written read. I definitely look forward to reading more books written by Ruta Sepetys!
Although billed as a young adult book, Between Shades of Gray can and should be read by all. Ruta Sepetys chronicles this harrowing time through fifteen year old Lina, whose childhood is cut tragically short when she and her family are deported. It’s incredibly sad and the happy moments are few and far between. Although books like this are tough to read, it’s essential we do. We cannot allow horrific events of human suffering to be forgotten and surely knowledge of suffering endured by our fellow human beings can only lead to greater understanding and compassion.
It details the story of a 15 year old Lithuanian girl, Lina, and her family, whose ordinary life is shattered the day that she is dragged, together with her family from her home by the Soviet Secret Police, and transported hundreds of miles by train, to the icy wastes of Siberia to live and work in a Soviet labour camp. As with the Jewish concentration camps, these ordinary people, thrown together by fate, form strong friendships and bonds that help them to survive against incredible odds. Throughout her ordeal, Lina, who is an artist, finds the opportunity to draw whenever she can, using whatever materials she can find, in order to record the people and the places that she encounters. This is no doubt one of the things that helps her to keep her sanity and survive.
This is a tale of hardship and deprivation, of sadness and of man's hostily towards his fellow man (and of course woman), but most of all it is a book about survival and a book about friendship and resilence and of how the human spirit ultimately always wins through.
The author is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee who lives in the US. She wanted to tell this story, the story of her ancestors, for some of it is based on the first hand accounts of survivors, so that more would be aware of the history of these Baltic states and what their people went through.
It would be misleading to say that this was a book that I enjoyed, for it is hard to enjoy tales of others suffering, but it is a book from which I learnt a lot, and is therefore a book that I would strongly recommend.
Ruta Sepetys's debut YA novel is a harrowing, brutal and personal tale of the horrors suffered by the people of the occupied Baltic states at the hands of the Soviet invaders. There are times when it's difficult to read and I think that its impact is very much let down by an abrupt ending, but this is a powerful debut that well deserved its critical reception and deals with a subject that the West is willing to brush under the carpet.
Intelligent and sharp tongued, Lina's a little too fast and free with her opinion in a world where opinions can get you killed. Seen through her eyes, the journey to Siberia and camp life is particularly bleak and it is at times difficult to read the casual cruelty of the guards (which extends to killing children and grief stricken mothers). Her relationship with Andrius, whose mother is bullied into serving as a comfort woman for the guards is fraught with tension with each suspecting the other's motives. I enjoyed the way Sepetys shows the small acts of kindness that sustain them through their hardship.
Central to the book though is the relationship between Lina and her mother, who speaks Russian and who keeps the Lithuanians united against the Russians but doesn't judge those who give in. The mother is an incredible character and I loved her strength and dignity and the lengths she'll go to in order to protect her family.
Although based on the experiences of Sepetys's family, unfortunately the book's let down by an abrupt ending that's topped off with a postscript that felt tacked on. Given the awfulness of Lina's predicament, I wanted to know how she makes it out of it and could easily have read a longer book.
Narrated by a young girl, she reveals the heartbreaking atrocities suffered by these innocent people, while reminding us of the warmth of human compassion and the sheer power of the human spirit to survive.
You will cry when you read this, with frustration, indignation, sadness and even, at times, with a watery smile. The writing is beautiful and moving, powerful in its simplicity and understatement, shocking in what it reveals.
Please read and talk about this book and the events depicted. These things really happened.
Other reviewers have described the plot admirably, so I will give you just some of the contrasting threads she weaves so creatively:-
Loyalty v Betrayal - Truth v Lies - Age v Youth - Past v Present - Knowledge v Innocence - Generosity v Meanness -Courage v Cowardice - Creativity v Cruelty - Poverty v Plenty - Love v Hatred - Survival v Death....
She has the ability to make you smile and cry within the space of a few pages; she shines a light on the grayness that is suppressed history - and shows us that there is nothing stronger than love and the will to survive.
I agree with others that this should be recommended reading for all schools and colleges, and it has something significant to say to all ages, in all countries - especially now.
A well written book which I would recommend other people read.
The only fault I have with this book is that it didnt last longer.
This book was brilliant.
This historic event has been overshadowed and hidden behind better known, similar stories - I have been brought to this book by a Latvian acquaintance and I’m glad I read it, to honour her nation