"I don't deserve anything.
You stand for what is right, Lina,
without the expectation of gratitude or reward."
--Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publisher: Philomel Books, 368 pages
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2012
Holy emotional roller coaster, Batman. I grew up loving all books having to do with World War II and the Holocaust. Call me weird but that time period has always interested me. That's what I thought I would be reading about. Imagine my surprise when I started reading this book and it really hardly talked directly about Hitler and the German invasion. Lithuania and the Baltic countries were places I never have really given much thought to before...Now, I can't get enough. The events that happened in this story were so unbelievable and heartbreaking that I found myself crying in, legit, the first 10 pages. Ugh! This family!
Ok, so let me back up. This books is all about the intense emotional feels. This book doesn't mess around. Not at all. I fell in love with these characters and felt so much for their emotional journey. I cannot even BEGIN to fathom what living this must have been like. To be honest, there is a part of me that cannot mentally comprehend that this actually happened. It is too horrifying. And that people survived these conditions in literally unbelievable. I was walking into work this week in a fleece and was miserable and cold...these people lived through winters in the Arctic Circle without hardly any real clothing. It's unreal. Again, I actually cannot believe that people were able to physically survive this. It is so inspiring it brought tears to my eyes.
The characters...oh my GOSH the characters! Lina is the main character and is so bloody brilliant. She is so tenacious in this horrible situation. Her strength never ceased to amaze me. Her protection and love for her mother and especially her younger brother was just...*sigh*. This is what family is all about. While I adored Lina, hands down my favorite character was her mother. Her mother was a saint among mortals. She was the light and beacon of hope on the darkest and bleakest night. Her spirit and morale was just...beyond anything I've ever read about. She loved her children and the strangers around her so much they all made it as far as they did because of her. I was constantly in awe of her selflessness and her ability to stay positive in absolutely any situation. I was tearing up at multiple points because of just how amazing of a character she is.
There is a subtle but completely endearing romance that exists in this book. You can kind of see it coming from the beginning but it evolves in such a beautiful and innocent way in a situation that bleeds ugliness and horror. You are rooting for these poor kids to persevere solely so that they can experience all that life has to offer them. My heart hurt thinking about being in this situation. The absolute hopelessness leaks off the pages and you feel what they feel. Their despair, sadness, fury, but ultimately their hope. They continue to have hope in the most desperate situations.
The writing is fantastic. Lyrical and simple. Beautiful and heartbreaking. It has it all. I was immediately taken in by this book and finished it very quickly because every time I put it down I wanted to know what happened next. Same thing with the other Ruta Sepetys book I read after this one, but I digress. Seriously. This book sucks you in. Crushes your heart. Gives you hope. And keeps you coming back for more. This review is really hard to write and verbalize into why I liked it and how good it was because it is so emotionally raw and intense that writing about it doesn't do this book justice. It just simply is. Horrifyingly beautiful.
Should You Read This? Yes. It is one of those books that is so horrifying in context that you want other people to realize how ugly humans can be to each other and you want to change your own outlook to make the world better.