Friday, 8 June 2012

Review - Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray (Ruta Sepetys)

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys
Between Shades of Gray tells the story of a Lithuanian family who are deported to Siberia and imprisoned as worker slaves in the Soviet’s gulag system of prisons. The tale is narrated through the eyes of sixteen year old Lina who is seized along with her mother and brother one day.

The stand out feature of this novel is its subject matter. Set during World War II, the novel draws on extensive historical research by the author, Ruta Sepetys, whose family are from Lithuania. The book trailer is very informative and moving, and well worth watching too.  Tissues needed.

Little M read this book at a pace and loved it (you can read her review and watch the trailer here). But I found it somewhat slower and in the first part of the book, the sentimental tone jarred with the subject matter at times. However, the tone is deceptive and softens what is happening, lulling you into a false sense of security – in much the same way that some of the characters in the story are lulled. But from chapter 27 onwards, the horrors that occur stand up starkly against the softer tone that prevails in the early sections.

Sepetys uses flashbacks that have a particular poignancy when her memory recalls make Lina realise that the clues to current events had been there for her to see.  But for an innocent child, she just didn’t know that she should be looking for them.

The role of art and books in this novel works as beautifully and powerfully as it did in other children’s and young adults novels like Once by Morris Gleitzman and the Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Between Shades of Gray joins these novels as stark reminders of a double-edged sword: how words and pictures can seal a terrible fate yet also be a source of great comfort and hope.

In addition to the horrors of wartime incarceration, Sepetys’ explores the human capacity for love – love between friends, between family, and potential lovers too. And for hope.

A cold shiver ran through me as I wrote this review and there was a sharp pricking at the corner of my eyes. I think this story might stay with me forever.

The first section is titled Thieves and Prostitutes - but don't worry; there isn't any. But the last two sections of the book do deal sensitively with sexual abuse. There are also many brief moments of shocking violence. None of this is overly graphic and never gratuitous. Appropriate for mature readers who can cope with the tragedies of our social and political histories. Verdict - a superb young adult read.

Between Shades of Gray has been shortlisted for the 2012 Carnegie medal.

Publication details:
2011, Puffin, London, paperback

This copy: our own


  1. I thought this was an outstanding novel and one of the first that talks about the Russian labor camps in WW 2. I am glad you both liked it so much. Very nice review.

    1. Thanks Alex, I was wondering whether much had been written about this. Sepetys' video of course, suggested that there wasn't.


Hi there! We'd love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment. You need to fill out the word captcha too because of spam. Your comment will be visible after approval.