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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

What is a human life worth? Ruta Sepetys raises this question with “Between Shades of Gray”, a story of a fifteen-year-old World War Two Lithuanian refugee. Somewhere between fighting for her own life and others, Lina Vilkas, the heroine, manages to capture the hearts and anger of readers with an astoundingly disturbing yet enthralling novel.

Lina is looking forward to the best summer yet – art school, spending time with her best friend and cousin Joana, and first dates. These exciting prospects are blown away in no time at all when the NKVD bursts into her quiet home one night and force her mother, young brother, and self to board a train to Siberia. They have no idea where Lina’s father is, who disappeared soon before.
The perils of the trip alone nearly kill everyone in the crammed train cars, not to mention the dangers they face once they arrive in the Siberian concentration camp. Fueled by her own furious anger, Lina vows to live as a challenge to the NKVD. Bravely documenting her story with drawings, she leaves a trail wherever she goes. Somehow, in the midst of pain and injustice, Lina lives with small pricks of joy, such as inexplicably finding love. Lina’s love interest, called Andrius, adds a romantic twist on the story that never becomes inappropriate as books are wont to do; rather, it remains pure and tender throughout.
Though the Holocaust has become a well-documented historic event, the one side which is less commonly seen is that of those who Stalin oppressed. The torture of the Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians alike are brought to light with this book. Lina’s courage quickly wins all
readers, though to truly grasp the importance of the novel it is best to be of a mature age. The plot is full of twists and shocking revelations, but not so many that a reader is confused. The writing of Ms. Sepetys is clear and full of heart-wrenching emotion. The angry tone which crops up so often in the story is not uncontrolled and desperate, but has a still relatable honed fury. “Between Shades of Gray” channels the raw honesty of “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” yet never becomes quite as graphic as movies such as “Schindler’s List”.

This novel is a beautiful depiction of the suffering so many innocent people had to face at the hands of careless leaders. The internal and external conflict of one girl out of so many puts our own luxurious lives into perspective. Seyeptys puts the reader into a painful time of Lithuanian history, and yet hope, compassion, and love shine through. “Between Shades of Gray” is without a doubt a book all should read.



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