In my head...and other thoughts.

My thoughts. Simple as that. I'm a Christian. Mom. Wife. Daughter. Friend. Coworker.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, published by Philomel Books (division of Penguin Group {USA} Inc.).  5 STARS!!!

I will randomly go into our small town's library and see if they have anything I would like to read that is new. I have read about everything there that I am interested in and sadly, I won't stoop down to romance, so usually I either find one that sounds "okay" or maybe even one I've already read before. (Glass Castle/Before Woman Had Wings/ Blackbird anyone?!)

I always look at the cover, read the jacket and usually the first couple of pages before I can decide if I like it or not. This book had just a simple but beautiful cover; the jacket intrigued me into the story; and before I could get past the first page...I was head over heels with this book. Lucky for me, when I went home to check out the reviews on, I noticed it was actually in my to-be-read pile! Which is a good thing considering I have over 600 books on it :)

Sepetys is a debut author who tells the story about Lina, a 15-year old girl from Lithuania during the World War II years and when Stalin reigned. The story jumps right off the first page, showing us Lina, her mother and brother being arrested by the Soviet "secret police" and being herded like cows into trucks with many other Lithuanias. Both Lina and her brother Jonas are surprised at their sudden charge of being anti-Soviet. (Their mother not so much.) So begins one of the most horrifying acts I've ever read. (Please note that while this is a work of fiction, the author based it on interviews with survivor's families as well as her own family's story. It is based on what she had read/been told/ and what she found in her research.)

I admit, I have a semi-obsession about the Holocaust and World War II along with many others in this world who can't believe such a heinous act was allowed to happen. I've looked on the internet for many hours times many days absorbing the information out there and have read quite a few books surrounding it. (The pictures!)  How can anyone forget The Diary of Anne Frank? My search has always lead me to Hitler and his surrounding evil men who helped him get away with massive murders. (This horrible crime actually took place a few years before the start of WWII, but their story is much like Holocaust survivors.) Sad to say, Stalin I've only read about a little. Sure I knew he was an 'bad' man, but to know that he was in charge of so many losing their lives and the way people were treated, he was no better than Hitler himself. (Of course, you all might be shaking your head about my 'lack of knowledge' about Stalin, and really, it is pathetic. Hitler was the main man and I think the rest of the world was concentrating on watching him move, letting Stalin carry out his dirty little plans.) 

Back to the story.Lina is an aspiring artist, always drawing what she sees, how she feels and what is happening around her. Her sketching whenever she finds pencil/paper/pen to do it, lets her have an escape, propelling her forward to survival. The book is in present tense, but we find out about Lina's family/extended family and her past through memories she comes to rely on to get her through the hardest parts of being taken.  After many miles of being treated like cattle, hundreds to a train car, Lina, Jonas and Elena (her mother) are then ordered to work at a potato/beet farm in which they are made to complete hard labor for a ration of 300 grams of bread per day. The story goes on telling how the family worked hard, interacted with other prisoners and feared the soldiers.

Sadly, the story does not end there and happy ever after. Lina, her family and other characters from the book we learn about, are then once again, herded together and travel many many days, making their way to the North Pole. There they must provide for Stalin's soldiers who are there to keep them imprisoned. Hard winters, diseases, malnourishment and the lack of sun, makes it unbearable for the prisoners. 
Throughout the book, Lina's mother Elena, shows her kindness/goodness and belief in the human soul. She does not "hate" the enemy. She offers to share with others their food, comforting them and telling her children that "two wrongs don't make a right" (paraphrased...and I might even have it wrong...but I think its about right.) Her strength is so real you can feel it. Her love for her children is very deep. 

I will not reveal anymore of the story as I feel as if I have already said too much for others not to read it, but oh I hope they do! I believe it might be more directed at youth (the inside says Philomel books are a division of Penguin Young Readers Group) but I have not read a story more real than this one in a very long time. Be prepared to spend a couple of hours while you get transported back into time during the 40s where surviving  was the only option. 

***The author includes a note in the back, giving a few more facts to the history that happened not that long ago to these people. Please don't forget to read this. My favorite quote is in this section, "Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy - love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit" ~ Rita E. Sepetys

Watch the video of the author explain about the book...even watching it after I read it...WOW!!

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