Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys
Reviewed by: Rachel Maggard
In 1939 right before the breakout of WWII, Stalin and Hitler signed a pact of nonaggression which stated they would not take military action against each other for the next 10 years. Hitler was able to invade Poland without opposition. Eastern Europe (the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) were annexed into the Soviet Union. “Between Shades of Gray” tells the story of what happened to the people of Lithuania when they came under the rule of Stalin.
It is told from the perspective of Lina, a 15 year old girl, who is taken from her home along with her family. Under Soviet rule, many Lithuanian citizens were taken from their homes and the men were sent to prison camps and women were sent to Siberia which is in the arctic region of Russia and is known for it’s harsh climates. Lina is an artist and she documents her story through her art in hopes that it will make its way to her father in prison or someday the entire world.
This story is a work of historical fiction based on Ruta Sepetys’s family history. Her father was born in Lithuania and escaped in 1940 along with her grandfather. She did not know her own family’s stories until she was an adult. When I read this story, it was the first time that I had heard this perspective of WWII history. These stories were kept secret for many decades as Lithuanians remained under Soviet rule after the end of WWII until early 1990 when Lithuania became independent shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
I encourage you to read this beautiful novel that tells a part of world history that is not well known and is harrowing but there are still glimpses of hope and love. As the author states, “between shades of gray sometimes there’s a small crack that can let the love shine in.” This is a brutal story but it is also a story in which “love is the most powerful army.”
Ruta Sepetys speaks about her book in this video and it is, also, well worth your time.