Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray

Be warned: this is a very powerful, intense, and at times, upsetting read. If you can deal with that, then I strongly recommend this memorable debut by Ruta Sepetys. Drawing from her family's own history, Sepetys tells the stories of Lithuanians and other citizens of the Baltic countries who were enslaved during Stalin's reign of terror during and after World War II.

Lina is only fifteen years old when her family is arrested and sent to a prison camp in Siberia; her father is sent to prison. Stalin has ordered the arrest and exile of teachers, religious figures, librarians, musicians, artists, writers, medical professionals, and business owners from the Baltic states. Forced onto cattle cars, where they suffer unimaginable conditions, the prisoners must endure hours of hard labor and minuscule rations. Those who sign a "confession" earn bigger rations--and 25 years of hard labor.

This is an incredibly sad novel, but the courage, determination, and love for family that the prisoners exhibit is phenomenal and balances the misery and horror detailed throughout the story. The community that is formed is also extraordinary--the prisoners comfort each other with tales of family, good things to eat, and Christmas memories. Flashbacks to Lina's life before exile reveal opportunities that were lost, and eventually, the reason why her family was targeted.

Emotionally challenging and rich with unforgettable characters, Between Shades of Gray is one of the best YA novels I've read this year. Definitely hope it's in the running for the Printz.

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