Sunday, March 13, 2011

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages 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, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

Between Shades of Gray is a stunning, unforgettable story that I really think should be on every readers must-read list (hint, hint ~ that means YOU ;)

It is the sort of book I sometimes think I have to psych myself up to read: because it looks intense and powerful and you know it's going to tug your heart strings. 

HOWEVER, it's not as daunting as you might think: despite the horror you know is about to be unleashed, it's quite effortless to read due to some gorgeous prose. It's a lovely blend of lyrical writing, teen voice and perspective and the scary stuff is lightened in parts due to some interesting characters. It will pull you in and hold you right until the end. 

It's brutal and heartbreaking and eye-opening and a testament to human endurance and the power of hope. 

It's not just a book with a powerful message ~ it's also a compelling story, sure to captivate any reader's heart. Once you start reading it's utterly addictive.  

I've been struggling with writing a review, so instead I am just going to share some personal thoughts about the book ~ hopefully you can get a taste of what I LOVED about it and get a feel for what you can expect:
  • I ADORED all the drawing scenes. I love art-y stuff in books and Lena is talented and often looks at the world through an artists eye.
  • I REALLY liked exploring right and wrong and morals and integrity against a back ground of survival, where often people have to make hard choice to ensure the survival of loved ones or themselves. Some characters made some tough choices in order to protect loved ones.
  • I LOVED seeing how when everything is stripped away (possessions, loved ones, dignity) how the human spirit can soar against that and also how it crumbles. 
  • The flashbacks to Lena's life before were awesome, adding some levity and painting a picture of all that had been stripped away. It added sunshine and a bitter-sweet nostalgia. The contrast was masterfully done.
  • I think not only did I find this book mesmerising, but it also made me appreciate life and all we have. And, I SO wanted to slip through the pages and share some of my food around. Especially when you see how grateful they are for 'food' that most of us wouldn't even consider eating.
  • I was very much compelled to see who would survive and how. It's a book that continually raises the stakes and beloved charcters do not survive no matter how hard you wish it to be so. I read this wide-eyed, equal parts dread and hope for the fate of characters I'd come to love
  • I've already loaned my copy out to my mother-law and an older friend and they loved it as well. It's a book you will treasure. It's a book I want my kids to read (when we've moved on past 'The Faraway Tree' etc ;)
  • The author's note in the back of this book will break your heart.
  • Why, yes, there is a love interest... Andrius, a few years older than Lena, who is arrested at the same time as Lena. I loved the ARC of their relationship and I really liked the guy, hey:
    'He had a strong profile, an angular jaw. A piece of his dishevelled hair fell perfectly against the side of his face. I'd need a soft pencil to draw it. He saw me staring. I turned away quickly.' p 94.

And it's a timely YA release. Although this is a historical novel (which makes it all the more haunting and powerful and memorable), it is a period in history where Stalin (and other world leaders) created their own DYSTOPIAN pockets of society, where people were stolen and hidden away and abused and killed and forgotten. Not only is this a MUST READ for all fans of historical ~ it has FANTASTIC appeal to fans of DYSTOPIA novels.
First Line: 'They took me in my nightgown.' 
Teaser line: 'Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch' p27
It's a beautiful beautiful book. Compelling and haunting and it's up there among my favourites. 

Here's a snippet from Nicole's review @ The Uncommon Nonsense (LOVE her blog insanely. Crazy about her reviews):
"sepetys had a message, simple though it may be, it said: don't forget. some moments were painful and horrible and inhuman.
some moments were inspiring and beautiful in their innocence."

And from Alpha Reader's review (which, I mean, how eloquent is she!!?! In awe...):
Sepetys has managed to replicate what Anne Frank did posthumously with her diary – she has humanized the war. Books about WWII can get bogged down in dry facts and politics. Sepety’s novel is phenomenal because of the human connection. Lina’s perspective is made all the more heartbreaking for her young years. She is a teenage girl who had the world at her fingertips – a talented artist who dreamed of going to university, and a daughter devoted to her family. Until the night her world is turned upside down and inside out. This isn’t just a novel of paradise lost – it’s about a young dreamer who is ripped away from her country and introduced to the harsh realities of an unfair world during turbulent times – but Lina has to realize that paradise is something she can build for herself. 
‘Between Shades of Gray’ is a sadly sublime, and an absolute must-read. You will pass it on to friends and family, and it will have pride of place on your keeper shelf. 

Between Shades of Gray Official Site  read an excerpt, watch a youtube (a tear-jerker!), etc :)

Between Shades of Gray comes out in Australia on the 28th of March. Wahoo!!
It is Ruta Sepety's d├ębut novel

Thank you thank you to  Penguin Australia for sending me a copy of this book :)


  1. Omg! I desperately want to read this book and can't wait to get my hands on a copy. I knew it was good and from your review, it seems it's not just good , but fantastic! I love your review, Nomes!

  2. I love your review. Especially when you pointed out what stood out to you. I reviewed this not long ago, and interviewed the author which you might be interested in. I'll link you; let me know what you think :)

  3. Great review! This is the kind of book I have to be in the right kind of mood to read, because I know it's going to rip my heart out and make me cry! It sounds like a great, powerful read & it's on my TBR for sure!

  4. Another fab review from you Nomes! You do a wonderful job of stirring excitement to read without spoiling anything.

    I definitely have my eyes on this book. Every review I've read is glowing!

  5. Before this review loaded, I was thining "okay, if Nomes loves it, I will definitely love it" and you did! I can't wait to read this, I've read so many glowing reviews but yours kind of sealed the deal, you mentioned tons of awesome selling points for me. THank you for the awesome review!

  6. I LOVED this book too! I just reviewed it myself. It really was such a powerful, moving read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. I found it really difficult to write a review for this book.
    It's one of those novels where, after reading, you try to tell your friends why they should read it (immediately!) but you just end up spluttering and saying something like "because, it's like 'wow' and like great and stuff and you should, like, read it NOW! Because and stuff."

    Utterly fantastic book. And a lovely review from you :)

  8. nomes i feel like i've won the lottery or something. praise from you is like getting an A from my college professor.

    when i read the author's message at the back i was just blown away (all over again). here's an author with intent, which means the book had intent. it wants to mean something more than words on a page. it wanted to reach out and say 'here i am, fight with me'.

    gotta admire someone who writes that kind of book.

    great review. and so everything i though and much more.

  9. Awesome review. I so have been meaning to get this book. It just... I know it's going to crush my heart but I can't resist the urge to read it and your review just made me want to get it all the more!

  10. It has an author's note? I love author notes. I'm gonna grab this one.

    The cover makes me think of If I Stay.

    What a lovely review, Nomes!

  11. You are terrible for my book budget. Another brilliant review :)

  12. your review gave me chills. Can't wait to check it out.

  13. STOP IT!! You've already added to my TBR pile so much I'm afraid that when it topples, I'll be crushed. but I suppose that's the best way to go, right? buried under a mountain of books? oh well *sighs dramatically while adding this to the TBR list* twist my arm already.

    sidenote: I just downloaded VIOLENCE 101 to my ereader. can't wait to read it! :)

  14. Yes. I have heard some really great things about this and am glad you too have added to the heralding of it. I just ordered it and will be putting this up on the top of the pile. As always loved you r review.

  15. It never really sounded like my kind of story, but how I can not read it after this hearty endorsement?! Great review. Definitely another for the TBR list!

  16. Wow, wow, wow. This sounds like another really good one. Also one that I'd have to psyche myself up for. Just reading this blurb kind of scared me, so I'm glad to see that you didn't think it was too daunting. Going to go add this to the pile. :)


Thanks for the commenty love :)