Word War II Fiction: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.


In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

-Albert Camus



In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they 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, 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?


My thoughts:

The history of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic States (1940-1991) is not as well-known as that of Germany and the Holocaust. I myself had a limited knowledge of the brutality that Lithuanians experienced under the Soviet and the German occupation. This book is an eye-opening journey to this part of history.

Between Shades of Gray chronicles the 12 years Lina and her family spent at work camps in Siberia. When Lina was taken from her home she was only a teenager dreaming of becoming an artist. And it was this dream that kept her alive during those years. Drawing was the only thing the Soviet couldn’t take from her. Lina drew a lot but the only drawing in the book is of a map that shows the timeline and the locations that Lina and her family were sent to. I was really hoping to see some of her drawings; I think it would have added a lot to the story. A graphic novel would be great as well.


Although the story is fictional, many events were written after Ruta’s visit to Lithuania where she met some survivors from the Soviet annexation. Some members of Ruta’s family were deported to work camps or imprisoned; her grandfather was an officer in the Lithuanian army. He was on an execution list but he managed to flee to Germany and eventually settled in the U.S.

The one thing that bothered me was the abrupt ending of the book. I wasn’t prepared at all! I thought I had a 30 more pages to read but turned out it was a preview of Ruta’s next novel (Out of the Easy). You can only imagine how disappointed I was. I had so many questions about the characters. I wanted to know what happened to them in the future. What happened to Lina and Jonas? Did they find their father? What about Andrius and his mother?  Kretzsky?  The bald man?

Between Shades of Gray is without a doubt a brilliant story. It tells us that Love is the most powerful army. Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy. Love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit. And we certainly need more love in this world nowadays.


Find it on GoodreadsBookdepository (You can read an excerpt here.)

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