Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2012
Number of Pages: 338
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
Source: Public Library
It’s 1941 and fifteen-year-old artist Lina Vilkas is on Stalin’s extermination list. Deported to a prison camp in Siberia, Lina fights for her life, fearless, risking everything to save her family. It’s a long and harrowing journey and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
So I finally got around to reading this one even if it’s a few weeks later than I had originally been aiming for.
Before Shades of Gray was a highly recommended book when I was in 8th grade. I saw a lot of people reading it and the school librarian recommending it.
So of course I read it like a year and a half later.
To be honest, I felt like Lina was…. really dumb. She was so naive and I kept having to remind myself that she was 17. For someone who’s life was on the line, she did a lot of really reckless things. I felt like she was more immature than her little brother. At least he has the common sense to not steal Soviet documents. Even if she was in such a time of emotional stress, her actions really annoyed me. Drawing? Fine. But drawing things that are going to get you killed? Not so smart.
Most of the book was spent telling of the people dying and the different horrific experiences. I feel like I could have ended up caring a lot more but the writing style made me feel very detached from Lina. It felt really stiff and at times, just bland. The plot and descriptions only made it harder to enjoy, especially with the tedious repetition of events. There wasn’t enough shock or anything that really tugged on my heartstrings. Sometimes it felt pointless, like unneeded drama just to move the book along. But maybe it’s just because I’ve been desensitized to it.
On the other hand, many of the side characters were heartwarming and great to read about. They had dynamic personalities and showed that family and friends can still help each other even in the worst times. Her brother, mother, Andrius, the little girl, etc, all contributed to help bring an element of believability in the grim story.
The ending wasn’t very satisfying either. It wasn’t bad but I just wanted to see the heartfelt reunion of the characters. I needed more than just a short letter. I finished the book and I liked it but then I had no closure. What happens to the other characters? Do they live? Does she ever get to reunite with her father?
What sealed this book as a 4-star novel for me was probably the message it told. Not very many people know that not all of the Soviet soldiers were bad. Oftentimes, people categorize the entire group as being horrific and evil, when in reality, many of them didn’t know what to believe. Sepetys addresses this, titling the novel, Between Shades of Gray, to explain that you can never paint a person black or white. There are multiple characters in the book that personify how it can be hard to distinguish whether they are good or bad because they do both positive and negative things. And this, was my favorite part. She showed that people still believe this today and that historically, human nature just isn’t that easy to understand.
So yes, it wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. I never really connected with Lina. But the side characters, quirks, and messages of the story were strong enough to make me enjoy this novel.