Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray is a book by Ruta Sepetys about a sixteen-year-old Lithuanian artist named Lina.  She, her mother, and her brother Jonas are deported by the Russians at the beginning of World War II and sent to Siberia to work.  Lina struggles to survive on a beet farm (where she falls in love with a fellow prisoner named Andrius) and then in an arctic wasteland, all the while trying to send messages to her father who was arrested just before herself.

This book gets its message across very well.  Its graphic descriptions of dead bodies being flung out of trains and thin frames wasting away from scurvy are striking.  It also has characters that I found easy to sympathize with, and those that weren’t, I grew to understand in time.  Lina’s worries about her family hit home quickly, and a grumpy bald man that nobody likes reveals his true fears at the end.  Even the cruel guards had weaknesses that made them more humane.

The only problem this book has is that the level of difficulty for the topic far surpasses that of the reading.  I would estimate this book to be around the third or fourth grade reading material, and yet I am barely comfortable with these rather gruesome topics and I am in high school.  (In fact, because of the reading level, I would never have picked this novel up if it hadn’t been recommended to me by a close friend.)

All in all, I really loved this book and I would recommend it as an easy read for an older audience.  Younger kids should probably wait a few years, because the material isn’t quite for them. On the other hand, if you are younger and are looking for a book about World War II that is little less gruesome and a little more difficult you should look into the The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is the story (narrated by Death) of a girl named Liesel living in Nazi Germany.


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