Sepetys, R. (2011). Between shades of gray. New York: Philomel Books.
Lina, her mother, and brother are removed from their home by the Soviet military in 1941 Lithuania. They are put in cattle cars and moved to an unknown destination. In the face of sickness, starvation, and death, Lina worries about what will become of her father whose fate is unknown. Their lives change even more when they reach their destination—a labor camp.
This novel is a beautiful and haunting representation of a time so often overlooked in history. Books about this time period typically focus on Germany or the Allied countries. This is often not discussed in history classes or historical fiction. This provides a unique perspective for a novel, given its relative obscurity to the average reader. Sepetys provides rich characters to tell the story and provide unique and rich insight into history.
In Between Shades of Gray, we also see an escape in the form of artistic expression. Lina, a budding artist, uses her drawings to escape from the harsh reality that has become her life, to make a statement about what she observes, to earn food and additional comfort for her family, and to let out dangerous feelings about her experiences. The drawings and the book she gets from Andrius are the only methods of escape for her, and they both become vital to the plot.
From The Washington Post: “Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both”
From Family Circle: “Beautifully written and researched, it captures the devastation of war while celebrating the will to survive.”
From The Los Angeles Times: “An eye-opening reimagination of a very real tragedy written with grace and heart.”
-Pair with other books by Sepetys:
Salt to the Sea
Out of Easy
-Pair with other books about concentration camps and WWII:
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
Four Perfect Pebbles by Lila Perl
We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman
Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin
My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve