BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys Book Review
Publication Date: March 22nd 2011 by Philomel Books
Rating: – Acceptable |
Book Summary: 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.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys Book Review Overview:
- A novel set during a part of history that you never hear about
- Obviously not a happy book, but the main character continues to persevere throughout the book
- Ending was a little disappointing and anti-climactic
Though I’ve heard great things about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys, I fear that it is the kind of book that I would have to be craving to want to pick up – but would never find the time to. So when I saw that it was available for audiobook download from my public library, I decided to pick it up. The most I knew about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys was that it was a historical novel that took place around World War II. Little did I know, it is a novel about a part of history that gets very little attention.
When you hear a novel that’s about World War II, instinctively you think the Holocaust. For the opening scenes of BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys, that’s what I thought was happening in the audiobook. Boy, was I wrong. Lina and her family live in Lithuania. When the military comes knocking on their door, I really did not know much about Lina or her family or why they were being taken away. The family’s relocation also came as a shock to the characters. They had no idea what was going on and no one knew where Lina’s father was. Her family had been ripped apart and they had no idea what was in store for them. Lina and her family were sent to labor camps because Stalin had not approved of her father’s actions.
Coming into BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys, I knew that the novel was not going to be a happy tale. Lina and her family are mistreated, left hungry, and overworked. I knew that a handful of the many Lithuanians in the novel would not survive. Similar to novels about the Holocaust, it was hard for me to see a happy ending for Lina and her family. Though her struggles seemed hopeless, it did not stop Lina from being such a determined character. No matter how hard life seemed to get, Lina continued to be determined and persevere.
There is a bit of romance in the book but of course, it isn’t the main focus of BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys. The romance did remind me a bit of The Diary of Anne Frank. Despite the horrible circumstances, Lina experiences some normal teenage stuff such as liking a boy for the first time.
While listening to the audiobook, I did encounter a few problems. First, the pacing of the novel is slow. BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys is not one that fills me with excitement; on the contrary, the novel fills me with dread. I dreaded that the characters had to suffer so much. Because the novel itself had a slow pacing, the audiobook was even slower. It was easy to lose interest in the audiobook and it was not uncommon for me to take breaks. Furthermore, the novel alternates between past and present. Lina often has flashbacks of what life was like before her relocation. It would seem easy to notice line breaks in a novel that distinguishes a flashback, but in an audiobook you have nothing more than a pause. I did get used to the flashbacks in BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY but it always took me a few seconds to realize what was going on.
Lastly, my biggest qualm with BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys is the ending. It just felt really anti-climactic. For me, it just ended. There is an epilogue that is set years into the future, but there is a huge gap in between the end of the book and where the story picks up in the future. It was quite disappointing to listen to an audiobook with an unsatisfying conclusion.
However, reading (ugh, “listening”, whatever…) to BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys taught me a part of history that I never knew before. One of the things I love about historical novels is learning something new and I am so glad that I was able to do just that when I picked up BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys.
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys is recommended to readers who like books like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Number the Stars as well as other World War II / Holocaust novels.
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About the Author
Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is her debut novel and is based on her family’s history. “It’s a story of extreme suffering, tremendous hope, and how sometimes love reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit,” says Sepetys. Ruta now lives with her family in Tennessee.
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WITHER by Lauren DeStefano Book Review
Series: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, #1
Publication Date: Date
Rating: – Acceptable |
Book Summary: Obviously, something went terribly wrong. Genetic mutations have festered, reducing human longevity to twenty-five, even less for most women. To prevent extinction, young girls are kidnapped, mated in polygamous marriages with men eager to procreate. Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery, a recent victim of this breeding farm mentality, has vowed to break loose from its fetters; but finding allies and a safe way out is a challenge she can only hope she will survive. A dystopian fantasy series starter with wings.
Book Review Overview:
- The concept is intriguing but it just went against my morals/ethics
- The romance felt forced and unnecessary
- But the novel still manages to entertain and the world-building is quite fantastic
I’m surprised that WITHER by Lauren DeStefano has not stirred up more controversy. I found myself having such a hard time picking up this book; not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I did not agree entirely with this dystopian society. In Rhine’s world, humans thought they had perfected medicine. Cancer was cured. Diseases were eradicated. But something had gone wrong. Though the first generation lives full and healthy lives, their children and their children’s children are not so lucky. Women die at 20 and men die at 25. There is no cure. The world is at a chaos trying to make as many babies as possible before the human race dies off.
WITHER by Lauren DeStefano is the kind of book that will make you think hard. It will make you question your morals; it will make you question medicine and ethics. While I love a book that makes me think, WITHER by Lauren DeStefano was also a book that made me frustrated. I found it despicable that girls as young as thirteen were being carted off the streets and basically sold into prostitution. The most frustrating part of the novel is that the main character, Rhine, is unfortunately incapable of changing society. She represents only a tiny fraction of the big problem. The only thing that she can really change is her fate. She cannot find a cure for the disease, nor can she somehow stop the Gatherers from selling girls into prostitution.
However, written in the first-person narrative, I found it quite easy to put myself in Rhine’s shoes. I like how she did not just accept her fate and that she had to play her cards just right to have any chance of escaping. On the other hand, I don’t know if there’s anything particularly striking about her personality that makes her stand out against other protagonists.
It’s very easy to sympathize with Linden as a reader because he is treated as a naive little kid who just lost the love of his life. Despite the fact that Linden is able to go beyond the walls of the mansion, his freedom is severely limited by his overcontrolling father. Though I knew I should sympathize with Linden even just a tiny bit because he was duped by his own father, I still can’t find it in my heart to feel sorry for him. Why? Well, there’s that little fact that he impregnated a thirteen year old. Yes, it was one of the sister wives. Yes, the sex was consensual. But it’s quite obvious that Cecily is still a little kid. Linden has his sweet moments and he is a nice guy. But it is not okay to take advantage of an equally naive and misguided thirteen year old.
And ahem, unnecessary romance much? I just didn’t feel it with Gabriel. I honestly think the romance was completely unnecessary. If I was locked up and forced to be someone’s bride, the last thing I could possibly think about is getting it on with another guy. I didn’t really feel any chemistry between Rhine and Gabriel. I thought the romance felt a bit forced and it was something that sparked out of convenience.
I know I just spewed a bunch of negativity, but despite it all, WITHER is still a rock-solid debut from Lauren DeStefano. Though I never finished reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, WITHER by Lauren DeStefano is reminiscent of the first fifty or so pages of Handmaid’s that I had read. However, I find DeStefano’s writing style to be a lot more accessible.
Furthermore, I admit that the world-building is kind of fantastic. The fact that DeStefano has me so riled up about this society and its amoral characters says something about the writing. DeStefano has the ability to get readers striking conversation and starting debates.
And finally, I guess I have to take back what I previously said about the covers. Okay, they aren’t the most beautiful covers ever, but the cover jacket of WITHER is actually 100% relevant to the novel. Wow, imagine that.
I would definitely recommend WITHER by Lauren DeStefano to fans of dystopian novels like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Matched by Allie Condie. Just be prepared to get your sense of morals and ethics a bit tested.
Why I’m Biased: This is a hyped-up book. I also got my copy of WITHER signed by Lauren DeStefano so I feel obligated to like it.
About the Author
Lauren DeStefano (pronounced: de STEFF ano) graduated Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT in 2007. Her debut novel, WITHER, the first in The Chemical Garden Trilogy, published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, is out now.
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Summary: Some people spend their whole lives looking for the right partner. Nate Schaper found his in high school. In the eight months since their cautious flirting became a real, honest, tell-the-parents relationship, Nate and Adam have been inseparable. Even when local kids take their homophobia to brutal levels, Nate is undaunted. He and Adam are rock solid. Two parts of a whole. Yin and yang.
But when Adam graduates and takes an Off-Broadway job in New York—at Nate’s insistence—that certainty begins to flicker. Nate starts a blog to vent his frustrations and becomes the center of a school controversy, drawing ire and support in equal amounts. But it is the attention of a new boy who is looking for more than guidance that forces him to confront who and what he really wants.
Book Review Overview:
- Heart-wrenching tale that will make you cry and laugh
- Perfectly flawed characters that are so realistic, so inspiring
- You don’t have to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or whatever to read this. Whatever your sexuality is, you will relate.
I didn’t believe the hype before I picked up this book. I needed one more book to read in 2011, and Brent urged me to pick up J.H. Trumble’s DON’T LET ME GO. I already knew that Brent was a massive fan of the book, and since I was in the mood for a contemporary novel, I asked Brent to Lend Me his ebook copy of the novel. I read this in less than 24 hours in two sittings. It’s one of those books where I had to force myself to put it down and go to bed.
Trumble is such a talented writer. I loved the alternation between past and present because it gave a lot of insight on how Nate and Adam’s relationship started and progressed. Furthermore, Trumble has that rare ability to make you cry in one paragraph and laugh out loud in the next. I urge you strongly not to read this in public; your reaction may cause other people to give you weird looks.
DON’T LET ME GO is relatable to everyone because the basis of the novel is the relationship between Nate and Adam. It doesn’t matter that the main characters are gay because the characters are so easy to relate to. Trumble puts you in Adam’s shoes and you feel his heart break. Like Nate, as much as I wanted to trust Adam, I just couldn’t do it. A million different scenarios ran in my mind about all the things that Adam could do to hurt Nate while he was in New York City. I didn’t want to think the worst of Adam, but Trumble made it so difficult not to. In addition to Adam, Nate is also so flawed which made him even more realistic. He’s not perfect either, but he works to make himself a better person. Nate has trust issues and he has to learn to accept that people won’t judge him based on his past. Trumble creates such realistic characters and brilliantly captures what it is like to be in a long distant relationship including the insecurities, trust issues, and the reunions.
Furthermore, DON’T LET ME GO reminded me on how lucky I was to live in a liberal area and have attended such a liberal school. It reminded me that there are teens out there who are not so lucky and who do not have the freedom to be who they want to be. Nate is such an inspiring character to read about because despite the fact that he was bullied and abused, it does not stop him from standing up for what he believes in. He’s inspiring not only to the teens in the novel but also to teens reading the novel. Nate made me want to do something to help gay teens who live in more conservative areas.
I’d highly recommend DON’T LET ME GO to those who are fans of David Levithan’s novels and bittersweet contemporaries. I highly urge you to support this fantastic author and buy this book.
Why I’m Biased: I was influenced by two reviews raving DON’T LET ME GO, written by Ecey and Brent!
About the Author
J.H. Trumble is a Texas native and graduate of Sam Houston State University. You can visit the author online at http://jhtrumble.com and on Facebook and Twitter.
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