Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray won’t be available in stores until March 22nd, but I want to make sure it is on your radar.  Preorder your copy today, because this is a book you do not want to miss.  It’s a heart-wrenching book about a part of history I am ashamed to admit I knew nothing about. Absolutely fantastic. It’s also a debut novel, which just stuns me.

The story chronicles a Lithuanian family’s deportation by the Soviets during World War II and I could not put it down.  It’s making the rounds in my classroom now and getting rave reviews from my students.  Set in 1941, it reads like a memoir.  I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea about any of the history that Sepetys focuses on in the book.  When Stalin decided to annex Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and parts of Finland, he gathered all possible dissenters, had them labeled thieves and prostitutes, and sentenced them to 25 years hard labor in Siberia.  Fifteen-year old Lina’s father is one of these dissenters and their entire family is shipped to Siberia in cattle cars, with no idea where they are going or why.  Their father is separated from them, and Lina uses her love of art to stay connected to him.

This book will open your eyes.  It will break your heart.  It will also send your heart soaring.  Lina is strong and full of life, and her struggles to understand what is going on around her, to understand how humanity can act this way, will tear you apart.  Sepetys is a gifted writer, and I was flagging quote after quote.  We’d been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. I realized that if we boosted one another, maybe we’d get a little closer.” (quote taken from ARC).  Gorgeous, right?  That is only a small sample of the gift Rupa Sepetys has given us with this story.  She describe the hardships endured by these people, in gruesome and heart-breaking detail, yet she also highlights their strength of spirit and the love that blooms in their hearts, despite their situation.

Harrowing, heartbreaking, and important.  This is a must-read.  I have read many WWII and Holocaust novels in my time, and Between Shades of Gray needs to be on the canon list.  The Soviet genocide of the Baltic states has been left out of history books for far too long.  Rupa Sepetys has made an important contribution to YA literature (and it also has strong crossover appeal for the adult market).  Highly recommended for teen and adult readers.

*ARC received as a gift from another reader.

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