“between shades of gray” book review

imageI previously read Salt to the Sea and decided I needed more Ruta Sepetys in my life. I feel behind the times this year, catching up on so much YA that I missed out on in the last couple of years. But this book…oh, this book.

While I enjoyed from salt to the seaBetween Shades of Gray is more my style. With only one POV and Lina as the narrator– I connected with it so much more.

Here is the Goodreads description:

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

When I read Ruta Sepetys’ books, I feel as though I’m being plunged into areas of history I previously had no knowledge of. I suppose when we learn things ins school, or even on our own time, we focus so much on what is closest to us. With WWII, I am very aware of the American part, and more of Britain and the Western European front than anything else. But Ruta Sepetys has introduced me to something I hadn’t thought of in so long, and that is what happened to so many others.

This book pulled on my heart and opened my eyes to Lena’s world. I wanted, more than anything while reading, to see her drawings. While Septeys describes everything so vividly, I kept hoping to flip the page and find an illustration. I know that many times this is the beauty of novels, that we can see without seeing, but this was an exception where I wanted it in front of me so badly. I wanted to see the pain in her charcoals, and her twisted views like Munch.

I want to call this book beautiful, but in fact the images that come to mind are anything but your standard “beautiful.” They are heart breaking, and stomach churning, and mind blowing– as they should be.

If you have yet to read this book, or any of Ruta Septeys books, might I suggest changing that– especially if you are a lover of YA historical fiction.

 

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“Salt to the Sea” review

imageI was very excited to pick up Ruta Sepetys latest book, Salt to the Sea, as my next new read. I’m ashamed to say this is the first of hers I’ve read, and am now counting down the minutes before her other book, Between Shades of Grey, arrives in my mailbox.

After being slightly hungover from reading Passenger, I should’ve known this historical fiction was going to leave me dry in a different way. The four characters who I got to know and experience the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff with left me questioning myself as an adult and how I would have acted when I was younger. Emilia, most of all, left my heart aching.

Admittedly, it took me quite a while to really get into the book. Bouncing from one point-of-view to another left me, well, confused. The book started off with each character having a short introduction, to the point that I had to flip back and forth a few times before I got the characters straight. This seems common enough, but it kept me from getting deep into each character for the first fifty pages or so.

The writing style, however, and the over-all story and development of characters was just beautiful. Rita Sepetys seems like a kindred spirit to me, not hesitating to share with her audience the gruesome images of a worse-than-Titanic moment in history. Sepetys does not hold back, and it is because of that I was pulled deeper into the moment and blurry to the world around me as I followed Emilia, Joanna, Florian, and even Alfred, into the sea.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but as this book is about an incredibly journey through East Prussia, ending with the sinking of a German vessel near the end of WWII… you shouldn’t be surprised that you’ll end the book with tears in your eyes and heart.

My favorite part of this book was actually found in Sepetys’s note at the end. She said:

“If historical novels stir your interest, pursue the facts, history, memoirs, and personal testimonies available. These are the shoulders that historical fiction sits upon. When the survivors are gone, we must not let the truth disappear with them.

Please, give them a voice.”

This is put into words exactly how I fell. Why I love reading historical fiction so much, and ultimately why I love writing it.

But that’s sharing for another time.

If you don’t mind taking a few pages to get your characters straight, and you’re intrigued by more than your typical WWII book– this one is for you.

 

 

 

 

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