Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I picked this book up in my mailbox early this evening. It's cold here in Western Maine, so I came home and started a fire in our wood stove. Three hours later, with the fire blazing, I emerged from this book. It was an incredible journey.

I've read about Russian Gulags and about political prisoners sent to Siberia to suffer, work, and die. I did not know about the Lithuanian teachers, librarians, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and military who were sent with their families thousands and thousands of miles into Russia to die horrific deaths. Even as America was allied with Russia against the Axis powers, Stalin was torturing and killing millions--some estimates say that he killed 20 million people. Insanity.

This book tells the story of one such Lithuanian family who is deported into Russia, along with thousands of others from their town. Stuffed into cattle cars, deprived of food and water, many died along the way. Their destination--A forced labor camp, where those who hope to survive are forced to sign papers admitting that they are criminals and accepting a 25 year prison sentence.

In the mist of this chaos and suffering are sixteen year-old Lina and what's left of her family. Her father has been separated from his wife and two children, but Lina and her mother and brother have hope that he is still alive. Lina is a talented artist and writer who documents all that she sees in the forced labor camp, including the abuses from the Russian guards and the small joys of life.

Because, amongst all of the heartache and trauma, there are little moments of happiness. Lina meet a handsome young man named Andrius who helps her to secure extra rations for her family. Friendships are formed, holidays and birthdays are celebrated, life is lived. It is so very moving to read this story and find that the will to survive triumphed in enough people so that stories like this one made it back into the world. We all have a lot to learn and admire from people like these.

This piece of historical fiction has my interest piqued. I am going to search out more information on this topic and will hopefully come across more stories like it. This is going to be a great addition to my collection of human rights YA lit and WWII YA lit in my classroom. It's readable and thought-provoking and it sheds light on an area of history that I have not read much about. A must-have for any high school classroom and classroom library.

**Review Copy Obtained through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program**
Hardcover Edition Available in March, 2011