Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 344 pages
Publisher: Philomel (March 22, 2011)
Sepetys' first novel offers a harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of countless Lithuanians in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country in 1939. In the case of 16-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, this means deportation to a forced-labour camp in Siberia, where conditions are all too painfully similar to those of Nazi concentration camps. Lina's great hope is that somehow her father, who has already been arrested by the Soviet secret police, might find and rescue them. A gifted artist, she begins secretly creating pictures that can--she hopes--be surreptitiously sent to him in his own prison camp. Whether or not this will be possible, it is her art that will be her salvation, helping her to retain her identity, her dignity, and her increasingly tenuous hold on hope for the future. Many others are not so fortunate.
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I’ve heard so much about this book and today I found out the reason why. I realise now that I’d missed out on this great piece of literature but could only appreciate it fully now. The book revolves around the life of Lina and her family who are torn apart and struggle against the injustice they face against the backdrop of Stalin’s rise to power and Hitler’s hold on the countries he’s sabotaged. I studied A-level history in which we studied in depth into Hitler’s reign of power and even deeper into Stalin and his cult of personality. To be able to finally find a book, that weaves in my own studies makes me a very happy reader indeed – and it was done in such a way, that it left me reeling with pride.
Analysis of plot:
Between Shades of Gray chronicles the life of 15-year-old Lina and her family, who are deported from Lithuania . They are then at the mercy of the NKVD who control them. Despite the historical relevance that it revolves around, at the heart of the novel is the story about a young girls life was changed drastically for no apparent reason and the author manages to convey Lina’s anguish at being uprooted from her old life, the misery of her present one and the wonderings of what has happened to her father. Weaved into this is also her passion and love for art which keeps her company through the dark and dreary days and this was vital for me as it showed me that Sepety has gone in depth into Lina’s character to provide her with a rock which keeps her steady through the times of turmoil. The extensive yet simply and accurate information which Sepety has written with does nothing however to distract readers from her beautiful writing, that’s almost haunting as it’s filled a mixture of emotions which she helps us readers feel as we are taken on to Lina and her family’s journey. I loved the beginning sentence as Lina says “they took me in my nightgown” and from there on the pace rivets from tension filled moments that make you bite your nails to sighs of relief ending on the last sentences.
Analysis of characters:
I loved all the characters in the novel, from Lina right down to her love interest with Andruis who is a fellow captive, and I thoroughly appreciated how despite the hardships Lina faced, she was deep down still a teenager and her association with Andruis shows readers that even in dark times that deprive you of freedom, there’s freedom of love. It’s believe ‘cause you want it to happen. The character were beautifully constructed, with a mother who wanted the safety of her children, to the innocence of her younger brother. It was all there.
From the start and right down to the end, Sepety makes extensive use of foreshadowing to foster a palpable sense of danger, as soldiers wrench Lina's family from their home. The narrative skilfully conveys the deprivation and brutality of conditions, especially the cramped train ride, unrelenting hunger, fears about family members' safety, impossible choices, punishing weather, and constant threats facing Lina, her mother, and her younger brother. Flashbacks, triggered like blasts of memory by words and events, reveal Lina's life before and lay groundwork for the coming removal. Lina's romance with fellow captive Andrius builds slowly and believably, balancing some of the horror. A harrowing page-turner, made all the more so for its basis in historical fact. It’s got everything a good book needs and the best bit is, you don’t realise how amazing it is till you put the book down and feel like a part of you has changed.