Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Response #1

Okay first off, just to clarify, this book is NOT 50 Shades of Gray- they’re two COMPLETELY different things. Sorry, just had to get that out of the way before I got on to business because I’ve gotten so many strange looks when I’ve said that title. Anyways…

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a historical fiction in which takes place during WWII, and follows a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl named Lina Vilkas. Living under Stalin’s rule, Lina is arrested  late at night along with her mother Elena and her brother Jonas without her beloved father Kostas, a professor at a college.  Forced upon a train, they embark on a journey heading towards Siberia where they are forced face the the terrors of human cruelty. Working on a beet farm along with a group of other people, Lina struggles to survive.

So far, I am thoroughly enjoying this novel as it grasped my attention from the beginning. There are, however, some drawbacks that I noticed. As I am not fully immersed in Lithuanian history, it made it hard for me to understand what exactly was going on during the time. This caused me to have to look and read the author’s note in the back where there is a small blurb that talks about the time period. After reading it, the book became more understandable and readable as I could fully put myself in Lina’s shoes. If even just a few sentences about the history was implemented somehow, it would make the fluidity of the book significantly better.

The book also follows many characters which sometimes makes the story hard to follow. Sometimes I am unsure which character is which, but I definitely think that strategically, Ruta Sepetys did a great job so the reader doesn’t feel terribly lost and confused by associating characters not by names, but by characteristics. For instance there is a man that is referred to as the “bald man,” and another character called “the man who turns his watch.” I think that this unique way of identifying the characters is not only helpful to the reader, but also very realistic from Lina’s standpoint, as I too would be unable to identify everyone especially in such a large group.

The plot of the novel keeps me interested and reading. In the beginning parts of the novel, a large chunk is dedicated towards Lina’s time on the train. Heck, the entire first third of the novel is dedicated towards this setting. Sometimes, however, it can get a little tedious while reading the novel as it painfully goes through many small events and details. For instance, many of the details follow the struggles that Lina must go through while on the train. The details about the horrid stench of rotting bodies, feces, and urine add so much to the entire experience of the story. Even every little detail is explained about how Lina is feeling. How cramped and helpless she feels. The way Sepetys formulates the novel is truly phenomenal. While the details can get slightly monotonous and drawn out, I think really adds to the feel and emotion to the story. It gives time for character/ character relationship development, attachment from reader to characters, and a realistic feel to the novel. The length of the first section may seem like a long time, but it really made me, as the reader, at the end of the section feel more close to the characters, but also feeling like I was right along besides them.  The effective writing style of Sepetys brings this novel to life.

From a good storyline, to a unique way of naming characters, to a good connection between the novel and the reader, this novel so far has been a great read and I look forward to what is to come ahead.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

  1. seralew

    Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. In all, I would give this novel a solid 8/10.

    Some aspects that I really enjoyed from the novel was how well the author developed all of the characters. For instance, an NKVD officer by the name of Kretzsky is mean to Lina and the author builds a universal hate towards the young officer. However as the novel progresses, Lina is found mouth gapingly astonished to see her mother run to Kretzsky for guidance and help. Furthering his personality as a character, Lina begins to see the more humane side to Kretzsky as she begins to realize he had been helping her mother find her father. In denial, Lina does not believe Kretzky would ever have the heart to do such a thing and calls him a monster. However, at the end, Lina finds out that he had sent a doctor to help Lina and her family survive the camp that they worked at. The character development of this young officer was certainly phenomenal because in an instant, hateful views towards Kretzsky turned into forgiving and more sympathetic emotions.

    Another aspect that I thoroughly enjoyed about this novel was how well the plot was built up. I appreciated all the fine details in which added to the reality of the situation at hand. Sepetys well crafted novel brought the journey to life, and through every struggle that the characters faced, the readers were right beside them. This, however, leads to some of the downfalls that I felt about this book. I felt like that the ending was creative, yet slightly rushed and unresolved. It ends with Lina still at the camp, suffering and struggling with still, many questions unanswered. Directly following the last page, there is an epilogue in which explains a construction worker digging up a box that Lina had placed fifty years back filled with information on their journey. In the letter to whomever found the box, Lina writes that she was imprisoned for 12 more years after she got back from the camps and that she was married. While this does give the reader a conclusive feeling that Lina lived a happy life after the camps and that she made it out alive, in nowhere does it state whether or not her father was found, why she was imprisoned for twelve more years, or how/when she eventually left the camps. So much of the story was left unanswered, and I think I would’ve been a little more content if the book ended at least when Lina was released from the camps, possibly reunited with her friends and family. Sepetys way of ending the book felt very unsatisfying and extremely rushed considering how well she built up the entire plot.

    While the ending was a little bit disappointing, the overall novel was still a great read and it taught me a lot more about the time period and some history. I would still recommend this book to other people as I still do believe that this book portrays a very important message to take your life for granted and also the importance in making sure one’s voice is heard.

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