Historical Fiction

Between Shades of Gray: An Authentic & Tragic Historical Fiction Novel

4/5 Stars

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher/Imprint: Penguin Audio

Edition: Audiobook, 7 hrs 46 min

Publication Date: March 22, 2011

A Spine that Shines? Quite Well!

Book Synopsis

It’s 1941 and fifteen-year-old artist Lina Vilkas is on Stalin’s extermination list. Deported to a prison camp in Siberia, Lina fights for her life, fearless, risking everything to save her family. It’s a long and harrowing journey and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?

Book Review

‘You stand for what is right, Lina, without the expectation of gratitude or reward.’

-Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Initial Thoughts

Good afternoon, bookworms! How have you all been? If you’re in the US, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I’m a little behind on writing my book reviews, but I managed to finish listening to Between Shades of Gray a few weeks ago in audio format. I’ve had Ruta Sepetys’ books on my TBR for a while, and this was the first one I completed!

Here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • Overall, Between Shades of Gray is an engaging read, but the subject matter is pretty heavy. It’s not a “happy” book, but there is definitely an important story being told here.
  • It was fascinating to learn about this part of history that I had never read about before: Stalin’s deportation of Lithuanians and other peoples in the Baltic region.
  • There is a bit of romance in the story, and I thought it was sweet. It encouraged me to keep listening to the story.
  • The author weaves in a bunch of flashbacks that offer insight into some moments of the story.
  • Everything that happens to Lina, the main character, and her family feels quite authentic. Fans of historical fiction would really enjoy this book.

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

-Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Characters & Relationships

Processed with VSCO with g9 preset
Image of Between Shades of Gray, Written by Ruta Sepetys

Here are my thoughts about the characters and various relationships:

  • Lina is suddenly deported from her home in Lithuania with her family in 1941. She, her mother, and her brother are separated from their father and forced onto a train. From there, Lina’s long, brutal journey begins. Lina and her mother and brother suffer a LOT in the Siberian labor camps where they’re forced to work. But Lina doesn’t give up. As an aspiring artist, she leaves drawings as clues for father, hoping he would one day find them again.
  • Lina’s mother Elena is such a good, kind person. I really liked the overall message that Elena embodied; love will sustain you, and you should still show goodness even to those who are terrible to you. Elena’s relationships with her children and the people around her are quite touching at times.
  • Jonas is Lina’s younger brother. Initially, he is very innocent and young, but his experiences in the camps really age him beyond his years. It is quite difficult to read the parts of the novel where he suffers.
  • Andrius is a fellow prisoner in Lina’s camp. He becomes a good friend to Jonas and a love-interest to Lina. There are some sweet elements of their romance, but Andrius is a bit absent from the final chunk of the book. I kind of wished he was present in-person, but I also understand how his absence creates more of a struggle for Lina.
  • Kretzsky is a very interesting, morally gray character. He is one of the young NKVD guards in the labor camps, but there is more to him than meets the eye. This also seems to be the inspiration for the book’s title. I actually found myself wishing for more of his character.

‘This testimony was written to create an absolute record, to speak in a world where our voices have been extinguished.’

-Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Final Thoughts

Here are some concluding thoughts.

Some of the insults the NKVD officers hurl at the prisoners do become slightly repetitive, but this is a minor quibble. Overall, the officers’ treatment of the prisoners feels very realistic.

By the end of the novel, there are still a few things left that I had wished to see play out on the page, but the author seems to leave some things to the reader’s imagination instead.

At the end, we also learn that Lina has buried a jar containing a collection of her writings and drawings, hoping that someone would find them in the future and share their story. It is so sad and tragic that even the survivors of these horrors felt too afraid to speak out about their experiences.

There is a short message at the end of the audiobook from the author herself, explaining that she too is Lithuanian. I found this really interesting. Ruta also talks about the research she did for the novel, including interviewing survivors on site in Lithuania. Her hard work really shines through in the novel.

Overall, Between Shades of Gray is a very good listen, though not an easy one due to the topics. I’d certainly recommend to people who enjoy historical fiction. Listening to the audiobook format is definitely useful for hearing the proper pronunciations and accents of foreign words and names. Happy reading, everyone 🙂

*Content Warnings: Violence from the NKVD guards; forced prostitution; an instance of sexual assault of a minor; verbal and physical abuse; death and illnesses.*

Copyright © 2020 by Spines that Shine (Caitlin Shaffer)

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Up Next on My TBR: Now That I’ve Found You + Crown of Bones (ARC)

3 thoughts on “Between Shades of Gray: An Authentic & Tragic Historical Fiction Novel”

  1. Very good, Caitlin!

    On Sat, Nov 28, 2020 at 2:27 PM Spines that Shine wrote:

    > SpinesthatShine posted: ” 4/5 Stars Author: Ruta Sepetys > Publisher/Imprint: Penguin Audio Edition: Audiobook, 7 hrs 46 min > Publication Date: March 22, 2011 A Spine that Shines? Quite Well! Book > Synopsis It’s 1941 and fifteen-year-old artist Lina Vilkas is on ” >

    Liked by 1 person

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