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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

February 14, 2019

When a fifteen-year-old artist, Lina, is ripped from her home in 1941, all she can think about is her father, who has been separated from her brother, mother, and her. While she grieves for him, she is also terrified for her own life, as she makes her way through Russian territory to slave away with limited food and rest at work camp after work camp. She attempts to send her artwork to her father to let him know she’s alive—in hopes he will receive it and understand it’s from his daughter. As she and her family take on an incredibly harrowing journey, she learns the most powerful values are strength, love, and hope.

I fell in love with the characters in this book, especially the main character of Lina. She is developed flawlessly as a strong young lady who can fend for herself, even in the tough environment that holds her captive. She and her brother are unlike any other brother-sister pair I’d ever heard of or seen. Their cooperation and support for each other is heartwarming and will keep readers invested throughout the ups and downs of the conflict.

The plot was extremely suspenseful and fast-paced. The storyline is interesting because Lina and her family are constantly being moved from camp to camp, and the audience will want to follow them on their journey. I loved how Sepetys ended each chapter on a suspenseful note; this was another aspect that added to the fast pace.

Although Between Shades of Gray is a work of fiction, it is well researched, and Sepetys includes many details about World War Two. She describes specific places in Russia and Poland, where the work camps were, and exactly the cities they traveled through.  This made the book plausible and more enjoyable to read, knowing that it could have happened in real life.  

Lina’s art was a wonderful addition to the plot, because the reader is always curious about whether her art will reach her father, and if it did, how that would affect her story. It also helped develop Lina as a character, because the artwork gave her a passion that added to her personality.

Sepetys has also published two other historical novels that are just as compelling as this one: Salt to the Sea and Out of the Easy. I have only read Salt to the Sea, but it easily became my favorite book of the year. Between Shades of Gray is a must-read, and I guarantee that your perspective on war and violence will be forever changed.


Philomel Books, 338

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