Thursday, March 31, 2011

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Copyright 2011
Philomel Books - YA/WWII
352 pages

Lina, a Lithuanian, is 15 years old and looking forward to art school when the Soviet secret police pound on her family's door, allowing them mere minutes to pack. It's 1941. Her father has already been taken away, probably imprisoned, maybe already put to death in a prison camp. Lina, her brother Jonas and her mother have no idea where they're going. Ahead of them lies a treacherous journey to Siberia.

Along the way, Lina draws clues to let him know where they've gone, hoping he will be able to follow their path. Will Lina's father find her messages? Is he even alive? How long will her family be able to survive the cold and starvation?

One thing that never ceases to amaze me: How completely bottomless the well from which the stories of WWII are drawn. Ruta Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee and in the author's notes she describes how and why the stories of Lithuanians were suppressed. Stalin "cleansed" the Baltic region? I had no idea.

It's been a couple weeks since I finished reading Between Shades of Gray and Lina, upon reflection, is an interesting but fairly flat character so she hasn't stuck with me all that well. What has continued to roll around in my head is the story, itself. As Lina packs, she sets a loaf of bread in the window without realizing how valuable food will become to her family, instead packing the art supplies she values. When soldiers try to separate Jonas from Lina and their mother, her mother finds a way to keep them together. Cold, hunger, endless train rides followed by life working as slave labor on a farm and then more travel and deprivation, disease and cruelty -- and occasionally, amongst the horror, small acts of friendship. Those are the things that really linger in my mind.

Between Shades of Gray is a young adult novel that is gut-wrenching, believable, shocking and moving. The fact that it's aimed at a teen audience does not diminish the story in any way. I particularly loved Lina's mother. She's a character of immense strength and grace who not only manages to keep the family together and fed but also manages to make friends with almost everyone who crosses her path. Definitely recommended.

In other news:

I was aiming for "brief" with this review. How did I do?

I finished reading Home to Woefield two days ago and it was so completely wonderful that I'm having trouble getting excited about the books in my sidebar. I can't wait to babble about Woefield. In the meantime, I'll just go ahead and tell you it's worth buying. It's a five-star book. Trust me on that.

For the last week or two of March, I dropped the ball and didn't bother to keep track of books in/books out. But, I've got two arrivals sitting beside my head (there's a dresser not far away) and I'll dash to the bedroom to grab the others. Here you go . . .


Dreams of Joy by Lisa See - from Random House
The White Devil by Justin Evans - from Harper (YA - creepy-looking!)
In Grandma's Attic and More Stories from Grandma's Attic - from B & B Media Group
True Courage by Steve Farrar - from B & B Media Group
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin - from St. Martin's Press

6 books went out the door, this week. I can probably get my records up-to-date but last time I looked, I had a net outgo of approximately 106 books for March. Not bad. I think I'll shoot for another 100-150 in April.

It has cooled off dramatically in our area but thanks to early heat, Mississippi is looking ridiculously colorful. It got so hot so fast (record-breaking upper-80s temps, last week) that a lot of things bloomed early and I totally missed the chance to photograph the wisteria. I always look forward to the wisteria. Here are some wet flowers from our library's garden:

And, a planter, still at the library. I haven't planted, yet, but I have some flowers sitting on the porch. It's rained most of the week. Hopefully, this weekend will be dry so I can get to the planting.

Kiddo read Jumper by Steven Gould, yesterday and has verified the comments I've read that the book is better, much better than the movie. Every time I turned around, there he was with the book in his hands. He used a paperclip as his bookmark. He's not particular, but he doesn't dog-ear (Thanks be to God Almighty -- I abhor dog-earing).

I'm a little worried about My Jane Austen Summer. Woefield after-effects aside, it's striking me as . . . weird. I just can't seem to follow the author's thought process. It's a tour book so I'll do my best to finish but I find I'd rather put it in a hamster cage than read it. Probably a good thing I don't own a hamster.

I think that's all the news. My headache has boomeranged on me and returned with a vengeance. Crap. I hate that. How has your week been?

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Flowers are gorgeous! Sorry about the headache. Hope it boomerangs out of there!

  2. Thanks, Kay!

    I'm sitting here hoping my med will knock it down. Aren't the flowers pretty! I haven't gotten to the dogwood and there's this pretty, willowy plant with yellow blooms that we drive past . . . but no place to stop so I can photograph it. The color everywhere is amazing, right now.

  3. Sorry to hear about your headache. Hope you feel better soon.

    I heard about this book a bit earlier today and added it to my TBR list instantly. Sounds like I made a good decision in doing so.

  4. I agree with your comment about the bottomless well from which the stories of WWII are drawn. I recently finished Sarah's Key am still amazed that I never knew about Vel' d'Hiv' (in France). I'm anxious to read this one, but may wait a bit so the two stories don't overlap in my brain. I have a hard enough time remember details as it is!

    Spring is taking its time here, although the daffodils (stems) are getting taller. Blooms should arrive in another week or two. My Star Magnolia bush/tree looks like it's about to burst into bloom any day. Yay!

    I see you have Lisa See's Dreams of Joy. I've just started Snowflower and the Secret Fan. So far, so good. (This is my year to read all those books that everyone recommended so highly but I haven't taken the time to read. Yet. Wish me luck!)

    I was plagued with a 3-day headache last week. I feel your pain! Hope it doesn't last too long.

  5. I did know about Stalin's actions in the Baltic states since it affected members of my family. I was still very moved the Between Shades of Gray.

  6. I just got this book, and am really excited about reading it. Everywhere I look, I see another positive review, which makes me almost giddy to start with it. I also am going to take your advice and check out Home to Woefield. I also just love the detail that you captured in that first photo. It is a beautiful time of year right now, with things blooming all over the place. I hope that you have happy reading this weekend!

  7. Sounds good! Thanks for the recommendation. Hope the headache disappears soon.

  8. Marg,

    So far, no headache today. Wahoo for tha! And, thank you. :)

    Yes, I definitely think Between Shades of Gray is worth adding to your wishlist. It's a hard read but a good one.


    WWII stories are always so rough that I'd read at least a book or two between Sarah's Key and Between Shades of Gray, less for the worry of overlapping than the sad factor.

    It's very strange to us to think that there are places in the US where people are having snow days. It's cool, right now, but just about everything is in full leaf, now. Our daffodils are long gone but there were some blooming at the library. I think nature is confuzzled. LOL

    Yes, I just got the new Lisa See in the mail 2 days ago! Very excited about that one. I loved Snowflower, but I haven't read any of her other books.

    My headache is gone, today . . . and wouldn't you know. I've got agonizing cramps. All I care is that I feel good enough to go to Zumba in the morning, tomorrow, though. Maybe I'll make this a half-readathon day. :)

  9. Kathy,

    I'd totally forgotten about your ancestry. This was yet another new perspective on WWII for me. Definitely a moving book.


    It's a hard read but I think Between Shades of Gray is a good one. I try not to read other reviews before I've read a title and written my own so I had no idea what other people think of the book. I'm glad it's getting positive reviews elsewhere.

    Home to Woefield will undoubtedly be one of my favorite books of 2011. I didn't want to leave Woefield when the book ended! I hope you love it as much as I did!!

    Thank you! I used my little point-and-shoot to capture the library flowers. Wish I'd had a good camera and a macro lens! The water droplets were so, so pretty.

  10. Jenclair,

    You're welcome and thank you! No headache, so far today. Wahoo! Now, if the cramps would just go away! You'd think it's not my week, but I've still managed to have a good one, pain and all. :)

  11. I've wanted to read Between Shades of Gray. WW2 novels fascinate me.

    I'm looking forward to your review of My Jane Austen Summer. I missed the tour for it.

  12. Holly,

    Between Shades of Gray is excellent. I hope you get to read. It. I need to get back to My J ane Austen Summer. I got sidetracked by Caroline Leavitt's Pictures of You, which is responsible for two very late nights.

  13. I really liked BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY but I agree with you that Lina's character was pretty flat. She is probably the least interesting part of the book.

    Life by Candlelight

  14. Amy,

    I'm glad you agree with me. I felt like Lina was a rather uninteresting narrator, but that didn't make the book any less interesting. It's a good story and a great addition to the WWII fiction genre.


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