Book Review: Between Shades of Grey

by Nola Killpack and Shruthika Araselvan

We are all familiar with the horrors of the Holocaust. Through memoirs, fiction, documentaries, and movies, we can be certain that this tragedy will always be present in the world’s conscience. However, the Holocaust was not the only attempt to create a “pure” society in the mid twentieth century. Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys tells the painful story of the genocide of twenty million people during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. Beginning in 1941, doctors, lawyers, teachers, members of the military, writers, artists, librarians, business owners, and musicians were deported and imprisoned in gulags, or forced labor camps, in Siberia. While clueless American steamers brought supplies to what they perceived to be their Russian allies’ remote military bases, thousands of people were dying mere meters away. While the prisoners endured starvation, rampant disease, back-breaking work, and an inhospitable climate, the Soviets destroyed their victims’ home countries until they became almost unrecognizable. The survivors did not begin to return home until the mid-1950s, after spending ten to fifteen years in brutal conditions. Even then, these people were always under the surveillance of the KGB and were forbidden to even mention the tragedies they had experienced. Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland finally regained their independence in 1991, but even now, the brutal truth is still cloaked. The majority of former Soviets involved in this genocide deny that they were ever a part of the deportations and deaths of millions of people.

Between Shades of Grey tells the story of Lina Vilkas, whose family is deported from Lithuania and spends many year in multiple gulags. This novel is part survival story, part romance, and part tragedy. Sepetys gives light to an almost unknown episode in Baltic history through the eyes of a fifteen year old girl who never gives up. Lina’s life may be ridden through with the bullet holes of tragedy, but she finds light in her pen and happiness in the eyes’ of the ones she loves. Read this novel and through the voice of one, hear the story of millions. Eighty years later, for many the pain is still raw, but through Between Shades of Grey, Ruta Sepetys using paper and ink to resist the maulings of fear and grief and gives voice to the stories of those that could do nothing but breathe and hope for an end.

~ Nola Killpack

ruta sepetys

In most World War II stories, readers only hear about the Holocaust and the persecution of Jewish people. But in the story, Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys, readers hear about what life was like for people who were on a different side. In the summer of 1941, Lina Vilkas is a 15-year-old artist, living in Kaunas, Lithuania. One night, Soviet officers come into Lina’s house and arrest her family. Lina, her mother and her brother, Jonas, are separated from Lina’s father and sent to work in Siberia as a prison sentence. In Siberia, Lina makes many new friends, continues her drawing and writing, which she uses in an attempt to find her father, but also suffers because of the lack of food, cruel treatment and harsh weather. I would give the book, Between Shades of Grey 5 stars out of 5. Readers also get to read about people who were on the other side of the war and this teaches readers that there are many sides to a war. Overall, I believe that the book Between Shades of Grey is a well-written and important story that teaches readers valuable lessons.

~ Shruthika Araselvan

Plus, the movie adaption, Ashes in the Snow, is coming out January 11, 2019 and will feature Bel Powley and Jonah Hauer-King.

ashes in the snow