First of all, can you believe how many blog posts I have written this week? You are probably just about sick of me by now. But stick with me today because I am reviewing a gripping book. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Pretty sure you’ll want to read it for yourself when you finish this post! I read it for The Blended Blog’s “Virtual Book Club” in March. Actually read two books this month. So proud of myself. TWO grown-up books. I know, crazy, huh? Just about as crazy as me writing five posts in as many days.
What’s this world coming to?
Between Shades of Gray
This was my month to select a book for the TBB “Virtual Book Club” and my choice was Between Shades of Gray. If you have been visiting with me for awhile, you know that one of my favorite genres (such a weird little word) is historical fiction. In particular, books set during World War II. Which is why I chose this title. Plus the fact that it has received rave reviews. I was delighted that a number of book clubbers chose to read this with me.
The Fine Print
- Format read: Print book, paperback
- Publisher: Speak
- Release date: April 3, 2012
- Genre: Historical fiction, Young adult
- Pages: 384 pages
- Amazon rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars
- Goodreads rating:
“Beautifully written and deeply felt…an important book that deserves the widest possible readership.”–Booklist, starred review
“Beautifully written and researched, it captures the devastation of war while celebrating the will to survive.”–Family Circle
“A harrowing page-turner.”–Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A gripping story.”–School Library Journal, starred review
Carnegie Medal Nominee (2012)
A New York Times notable book
SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Fiction (2012)
Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life–until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father’s prison camp. But will strength, love, and hope be enough for Lina and her family to survive? [source]
Between Shades of Gray, My Review
My Goodreads review:
Based on the tragic deportation of thousands of Lithuanians to Siberia and the Arctic Circle, this is the story of 15 year old Lina and her family’s fight for survival in Soviet labor camps during World War II. Lina uses art to keep dreams alive of the family’s reunion with her father, who was deported ahead of his wife and children. Sepetys uses Lina’s drawings, the art of renowned painter Edvard Munch and flashbacks to happier times to help tell the story. Beautifully written, hauntingly memorable.
I think this book drew me in for several reasons. Of course, the most obvious being that it was a story set during World War II. But I had an instant connection to Lina, the 15 year-old main character, because she liked to draw and journal. Both hobbies of a 15 year-old and a 58 year-old me.
I remember the paintings of Edvard Munch when most everything else I learned in two semesters of Art History has fallen by the wayside. His painting “The Scream” has haunted me since I first encountered it in college.
When looking at this painting, I can imagine the terror, the anguish, uncertainty that Lina and her family felt as prisoners in the Soviet forced-labor camps to which they had been sentenced. Lina referred to Munch’s art throughout the book, both in reflecting on her ‘former’ life of freedom as well as her imprisoned. Through her characters, Sepetys brings to light the little-known history of the relocation and extermination of an estimated third of the population of the Baltic countries.
In our discussions of the book, most of the book club gals felt a stronger connection to Elena, Lina’s mother than to her daughter. Maybe because none of us is 15 any longer? Or possibly because Lina was portrayed as a bit spoiled or self-absorbed, at least for part of the story. But we were quick to remember that as teenagers, many of us were somewhat that same way.
Elena, the mother, was the pillar of strength for her children and for all of the secondary characters, as well. She was light in the darkness and warmth in the almost endless Arctic winter. Elena represents goodness and hope.
Along their journey from Lithuania to Siberia to the Arctic circle, Lina used her art as something she could do to maintain assemblance of normalcy in her existence. It is an activity she enjoyed in her life before. Her future had included plans to attend art school. Lina’s drawings became a thread that connected her to what had been her life. And maybe a life preserver for what she hoped her life might still become.
She drew maps and used symbols to indicate where she and her mother and brother had been imprisoned. Similar, in my mind, to this drawing of a Siberian Gulag from prisoner Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya‘s notebook.
Then begged civilians with whom she had occasional contact to help her get these illustrations to the camp where he father had been sent. The drawings also gave her a hopeful, if only imaginary, connection to her father.
Most of us in the book club had never heard about this annexation or invasion of the Baltic countries by the Soviet Union, the extermination of a third of the population and the relocation of more than half a million to Siberian labor camps. Because of the interest to know more among the members of the group, many of us plan to read Salt to the Sea by Sepetys together next month. Which I will be ‘reading’ thanks to my public library via the Overdrive app for audio books. Thank you, Sheila at Making the Most of Every Day for introducing me to Overdrive.
We’d been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. I realized that if we boosted one another, maybe we’d get a little closer.
I shared a few resources with the gals in the book club to hopefully make the book more memorable. Before we even began reading, I shared this interview with author Ruta Sepetys.
Penguin Publishing has created a helpful discussion guide with extension activities and discussion questions. Check it out, here. And the bloggers and readers from Delicious Reads share their book club activities after reading Between Shades of Gray, here.
Last of all, we talked about the days Lina and the others endured inhumane conditions while being transported to Siberia in cattle cars. I looked up the dimensions of a typical car (300 sq ft) used to relocate Holocaust victims and the average number of “passengers” (70-120). Then I measured out the amount of space that would have been.
Our little book club is growing but there’s still plenty of room for YOU! We will begin reading our April book(s), today! Guess who’s in charge this month! Oh, yeah, baby. Scary that they would let me be in charge of anything.
Check out the titles for this month, here. And then register to join us, here. Book clubbing at it’s best…in YOUR home, in YOUR pjs, reading at YOUR pace. New friends, thought-provoking discussions. What’s not to love??? Please join us and tell ’em Leslie sent you.
Ok, time for bed over here at my house. I will be starting Salt to the Sea tonight and one of the April book club suggestions tomorrow. How ’bout you? What are you reading? Won’t you share in a comment below?
Dulce sueños, amigas mias! Thank you for hanging out with me for a bit. Now, go rest that ear.
Hugs and kisses,