09 February, 2013

Book Review - Between Shades of Gray

From Goodreads: 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. 

Thoughts: Over at Goodreads, Ari reviewed this book and she summed it up perfectly for me - Step on my heart, cut it wide open, rub it with salt and feed it to the sharks.. Or just make me read this book, because this is how it feels like reading this story.

Between Shades of Gray is beautifully written. Descriptions of the horrors people faced during these dark, dark times are stark and gut wrenching. The characters are just there, waiting for you to reach out and save them...but you can't, you can only stand by and watch as they struggle to stay alive, stay sane, stay human. As a mother I found this hard to read. The thought of my children going through something like this is impossible.

Every time I read a book about the Holocaust or events such as those that took place across the Baltic states I'm floored. How could this happen? How could one human think it was ok to treat another like this? How? Maybe as long as we can't answer these questions, or stop these events happening, we will keep asking.

Between Shades of Gray is the quality young adult fiction our young people should be reading. Unlike the last YA book I reviewed, where I was obviously not the target audience and was left feeling nothing, this book is for everyone and left me feeling almost too much. But that's ok, it's right that I feel overwhelmed after reading a book such as this - we need to keep feeling about these books, we need to know about it. 

Sepetys crafted this book so well. Every scene, every sentence, every word builds Lina's world, delicately and fragile like her own existence. Sepetys has family that experienced much of what she talks about in this book and you feel that she desperately wants to honour them with this story. Not only does she honour them, she shows the reader the ugly, horrible truth of what happened, validating their stories and bringing them out into the light.