Lina is looking forward to the future. She is the well-loved eldest child of a professor in Lithuania. Her parents are well-educated, cultured upper-middle class people. She is a talented artist and intelligent student. She has a loving extended family and close-knit immediate family. Things should be looking bright for her but Stalin has taken over Lithuania and the country is being rocked by changes. One day, her father doesn’t come home and her family is arrested. Only by virtue of her mother’s excellent Russian and an expensive pocket watch are the three of them, her mother, brother and she, able to stay together. Between Shades of Gray tells the story of their deportation and subsequent mistreatment in the Steppes and then in the Arctic.
The story of the people of Lithuania during the Second World War was not one I knew at all. So much of what I have learned about World War Two is from the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, a story which must be told and told again. The story of Stalin and his impact on the people of eastern Europe is also one which bears telling. The story could be gruesome and it has its moments but mostly it is a story of incredible courage, generosity and gentleness in the face of extreme violence and inhumanity. This book is a must-have title for school libraries, both K-8 and high school. The story is descriptive and emotional but not overly graphic or sensational. Ruta Sepetys has written an excellent book for studying World War Two history from its human side and for expanding the story from that of Germany out into Stalin’s Soviet Republic. The themes of survival and compassion, identity and freedom all worked together into a compelling tale. Recommended for historical fiction fans, war history fans and those who enjoy good writing regardless of genre.