Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. Philomel Books, 2011. 344 p. Grades 6-12. Historical Fiction. (YALSA BFYA 2012).
Lina, a Lithuanian, and her family are deported from their home during World War II. Lina, her brother and mother are separated from their father and sent to work on a Soviet potato farm and eventually to Siberia. Lina leaves drawings behind for her father to find them. As conditions become harsher, Lina and her family strength’s are tested time and time again in the struggle to survive internment.
Ruta Sepetys break out novel, Between Shades of Gray, demonstrates her ability for strong characterization. Lina’s character is relatable even from the perspective from a 22-year-old girl who has not had much hardship in her life. Her relationship with Andrius is humorous, heartbreaking and brings a sense of normalcy to a situation that is anything but normal. Lina is someone that you want to get to know and who you want to get out of the situation. Her little brother is also characterized beautifully. When he gets sick, you want just as bad as Lina for him to get better. He provides a sunny outlook to the harsh situation. He was always able to see a brighter side to the life they now had to live and not let the situation completely take over his personality.
Sepetys syntax is short and staccato, which reflects the situation. The horrors that Lina faces change her outlook on life. She has to become harder and understand situations that no one should be put into. This writing style works for me when reading. Even though the sentence structure is short, there is an elegance to the writing that makes it pretty to read even though the subject is not pretty.
I also enjoyed the epilogue letter that ties up the lose ends. Lina got out and married Andrius. Usually, I don’t like providing the happy ending without a build up to it. I think the actual book ended at a perfect time. It would have made the story too long and bogged down if she continued to write more of Lina’s 11 year story. However, this ending softened the novel and provided a look to the future without making the novel too lengthy.