Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2011)

They took me in my nightgown.
Thinking back, the signs were there — family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape.
We were taken (p 3).

It’s 1941 and Lithuania has been occupied by the Soviets for the last year. On June 14th, in the dead of night, the NKVD (the public and secret police of the Soviet Union acting under Joseph Stalin) round-up Lithuanians deemed troublesome.

Fifteen-year-old Lina, her ten-year-old brother, Jonas, and mother have twenty minutes to pack before they are led from their homes and sorted into overcrowded boxcars at the train station. Separated from their father, the family begins the long, cruel journey to Siberia.

For most Lithuanians, the boxcar is a tumbrel whose executioners are interminable hunger, pernicious guards, disease and freezing weather. Labeled thieves and prostitutes, those captured must rally together if they are to survive and maintain their humanity.

Desperate to learn of their father’s whereabouts, Lina passes on her art work – sketches and wood carvings – hoping they will reach the prison in which he is detained. It is how she captures the truth the Soviets hope to conceal from the world.

Gripping from the outset and fluid in its telling, I couldn’t put this one down. While it felt like my heart was in a vice throughout, a budding romance provided some levity and hope midway. Intermittent flashbacks to Lina’s life in Lithuania also provided a respite from the horrors of the NKVD and illumiated the reason her family was targeted.

An excellent book. Between Shades of Gray has received a starred review in Kirkus.

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5 thoughts on “Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2011)

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