Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.
Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.
This book lives up to all the amazing things I’ve heard about it over the past year and a half. Lina’s story is terrible and touching. Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did, but somehow she remains strong and true to herself.
Of course, the inhumanity and tragedy are shocking, but this book is also rich with memorable characters and clean, poignant writing. Author Ruta Sepetys not only “breaks the silence of history,” she breaks into the literary world with a high standard and a voice I will turn to again and again.
Sepetys’ next novel, OUT OF THE EASY, is out February 13, 2013 and I very much look forward to it.