Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: Audiobook Review

Between Shades of GrayBETWEEN 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 SepetysRuta 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.

Find the Author

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1 Comment

  1. It’s been a while since I read it, but I vaguely remember being thrown off by the alternation between past and present in the physical book, too. Maybe I’m remembering wrong (or I was just dumb when reading), but I don’t think the transitioning was seamless.

    Anyway, I did like this one. I wish the ending had been more fleshed out, too, but I appreciated the new bits of history that it offered.

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