Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

A beautiful novel about a very tragic moment in history. There are a wide range of books available about Stalin, the 1930s-40s and World War II, but this book stands out to me as being different from the rest. It's easy to locate many fantastic, well-written novels about the Nazis' persecution of the Jewish people, but this novel focuses on the genocide of the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by the Soviets-- a tragedy not quite so common to YA literature. This book binds true personal accounts into the fiction of the narrative. It's a page-turning, shocking, and illuminating moment of insight into a terrible truth.

The cover art is gorgeous. I love the representation of hope springing up through all the death and darkness through the image of the leaf in the snow. In the end of the novel, there is a scene where the sun finally rises in the horizon in the Arctic, bringing light to the darkness. It's the same symbolic value, but this cover image works just as well. It's a beautiful image and the perfect cover choice!

The book uses flashbacks and vivid imagery to construct the terrible history between the people of the Baltic countries and the Soviets. It is written for young adults/children, so the book isn't unncessarily graphic or disturbing. No more so than the typical type of writing found in YA novels about the persecution of the Jewish people.

The love between family members and the unification of people in the struggle to survival are important tropes in this novel. The main character, Lina, is deported by the Soviets to work under brutal conditions and be treated like savages. Lina, like many, many other Lithuanians, is subjected to torture, disease, inhumane working and living conditions, and to undeniable evils that actually happened.

The epilogue concludes with Lina's stating her reasoning for writing her experiences. She says that she passed on her stories in the hopes that by sharing the truth of what happened under Stalin's reign, that such evil will never happen again. It's a beautiful sentiment, and one that resonated with me as I finished the book. Having already finished school, I look back on my education in a Canadian school system and realize that Stalin, the USSR, and the genocide that he caused was not a major point of study, as it should have been. I believe this to be a sad truth.

This novel should be studied and given to novel-readers. It's a powerful book and should be considered as important, must-reads as other similar books about war, persecution, and suffering such as Lois Lowry's Number the Stars and Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl.

I highly recommend this novel! Everything about it makes me think that kids of a novel-reading age should be given this book to read for school. It's well-researched, it's well-written, and it's an exciting, page-turning, tragically beautiful novel.

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