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.