Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Strength Is All You Have

"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
Source: Bought

Goodreads Description

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.

My Thoughts

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.


  1. This was just such a beautiful book that drew a lot of attention to a fairly overlooked period of history. I'm basically just a huge fan of Sepetys at this point and kind of just agree with you on all points.

  2. This is one of my favorite books ever. It slayed me for sure. It's one of those books that has never quite left me no matter now many books are in between when I read it years ago. Soooo glad you loved this one too!!

  3. I saw "shades of Gray" and my first respond was: OH NO. Luckily, it's about this fantastic book and not the other trash. This book has such a beautiful writing-style and I absolutely loved Lina! She is so brave.


  4. I love love this book sooo much!! One of the best books I have ever read. I mean it only took me a day to read it. More people should read it.


  5. I tell everyone that this is the Shades of Gray book they should be reading. Such a wonderful novel.

    Marlene Detierro (Local SEO San Antonio)


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