Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Date: March, 2011
Genre/Format: Historical Fiction/Novel
In 1939, Stalin was expanding the USSR and invaded the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. He then started deporting anyone who he deemed a threat to his vision. This included scholars, reporters, or anyone that has been outspoken against him. Between Shades of Gray is about 15 year old Lina who, along with her mother and brother, is ripped from their home one night in 1941 and thrown into a truck to be deported to Siberia. They are separated from her father and their only hope is to stay together so that maybe they can be together as a family one day.
What I Think:
This one is hard to put into words. This is such a powerful story with characters that you grow to love as they are put through hell. What makes the hell even more grotesque is that it is based off of stories that really happened during a time of history that does not get spoken of too often. Like Holocaust books, this book is one that will rip you apart as you read it. It starts so suddenly and you are breathless as Lina and her family are dragged from their home and put into trucks and trains with conditions none of us can even fathom. Since the book is told from Lina's point of view and she had no idea that her family was even in danger, the fear and shock that she feels resonates with you as a reader and lends the the horror that you will feel. But the true theme behind this book is love & hope and how important they are and how they can be found even in the most horrible of situations.
Ruta Sepetys did a couple really brilliant things with this book that I really appreciated. First, I loved the theme of art throughout the novel and how it is what kept Lina sane. How she weaved Munch and his artwork throughout the story really captured my attention. Second, I really appreciated the way that she would use a single word to trigger a memory that Lina would share with us. It is exactly how real life is when you make connections between the present and memories.
I will say that the only negative thing I have to say is that I wanted more. I really felt that it started to rush a bit towards the end and then it ended too suddenly. However, it was not done in a way that hurt the brilliance of the book, but just enough to bother me.
And now, I am intrigued by this time of history. As I've stated in the past, I didn't feel like I had a very good history education and often learn new things from historical fiction- this was no exception. I'd always known Stalin was evil, but I never knew why. This book taught me so much and has made me want to learn more. I was talking with a friend about it and she made a very good point- we often don't learn about genocides or other hardships within a country if the dictator doesn't cross borders. It is only when it starts to affect us do we begin to care. That needs to change and this history is one example of why.
Read Together: Grades 7 to 12
Read Alone: Grades 7 to 12
Read With: Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin, Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse, Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Snatch of Text:
Mentor Text for: Characterization, Making Connections, Background Knowledge, Asking Questions, Flashback
Writing Prompts: Throughout Between Shades of Gray Lina often connects her life with the artwork of Edvard Munch. Find a piece of art that you feel represents a time in your life and write about how the art and/or the artist's style fits your life.
Topics Covered: Cross curricular- Soviet Union, Coming of age, Identity, Family, Art