Between Shades of Gray: A WWII YA Novel Not About Jews, Nazis, or Hitler, but About Something Equally as Serious

Between Shades of Gray is written by Ruta Sepetys and was published in 2011 by Penguin. Her website can be found here.

Genre: Historical Fiction


“Lithuania, June 1941: Fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to summer. In the dark of night there is a knock at the door and life is forever changed. Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, tearing their family apart. The three are hauled from their home and thrown into cattle cars, where they soon discover their destination: Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina embeds clues in her drawings and secretly passes them along, hoping they will reach her father’s prison camp.”

            ~Back Cover


“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”

Cover Art

~Sepetys (27)

“I thought about what Andrius said and struggled to decide what was “flattering.” Broad shoulders would signify power. His head turned slightly would accentuate his strong jawline. The uniform would be easy. I could draw it very accurately. It was his face that concerned me. When I imagined sketching the commander, I had no problem, until I got to his head. My mind saw a clean and pressed uniform, with a nest of wicked snakes sprouting out of his neck, or a skull with hollow black eyes, smoking a cigarette. The impressions were strong. I longed to draw them. I needed to draw them. But I couldn’t, not in front of the commander.”

~Sepetys 212-213

Warnings: Oppression of people groups, violence, death

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Rating: 4/5

What I Liked:

There are a lot of fictional books written about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany (The Diary of Anne Frank; The Book Thief). There are not a lot of fictional books written about Stalin’s “cleansing” of the Baltic region (Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia). Sepetys used her own family’s history in researching this book, and like other historical fictions, it is informative, enlightening, and real. Sepetys doesn’t just divide her characters into the “oppressed good guys” and “cruel bad guys.” Instead, she has them realistically struggle and adapt to their circumstances, including her main character, who at times is infernally stupid and at times is cunningly smart. Some good guys give in, some bad guys rebel. As the title states, they are all living between shades of gray.

What I Didn’t Like:

I find it harder to critique historical fiction because I feel like I’m critiquing history and the events that happened. That being said, it took me a bit to get into this book because of the way it was written. There’s not really a problem with the way Sepetys wrote it; it’s just that I had been reading books that were a bit more developed sentence-wise. It took me a while to get into the flow.

Nitpicky: The snow on the girl’s eyelashes on the cover photo looks completely fake.

Also, the back summary is misleading. The focus of the book is not Lina sending clues to her father (it only happens two or three times). The focus of the book is survival and hope.

Overall Review:

I highly recommend this book if you want to know more about Stalin’s actions during World War II. I knew almost nothing about this event until I read this book; most people talk about/write about/discuss the Jews and Hitler.

Coming Up Next: Between by Jessica Warman

One thought on “Between Shades of Gray: A WWII YA Novel Not About Jews, Nazis, or Hitler, but About Something Equally as Serious

  1. Pingback: 1956 Newbery Medal: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham | Leaf's Reviews

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