On Ruta Sepetys’s Novel: What Between Shades of Gray Teaches Readers

Fun and CreativityMedia

Poignant, heartbreaking, yet full of strength and hope, Ruta Sepetys's Between Shades of Gray is a masterful historical fiction novel.

It has been published in over 50 countries, is an international bestseller, won numerous accolades, and has a film adaptation as well, under the title Ashes In The Snow. And for good reason: it is one of the best books you will ever read.

There are some novels that you pick up and can’t put down; it’s a race against time to get to the ending, but at the same time one hopes that the story doesn’t end. This is one of them.

Between Shades of Grey is told from Lina’s perspective, a 15-year-old middle-class Lithuanian girl born to erudite parents in the 1940’s. The book deals with the experience of her family and countless others from the Baltic States like them during World War II. They suffered horrific losses, and were brutally silenced for their differing political views and their anti-Communist beliefs (among other reasons). Lina finds solace through her art. She bravely records her life and the lives around her, despite the risks, with the hope that one day, everyone will know their story and that it won’t be lost to time. The novel beautifully illustrates the courage and faith Lina finds through her drawings, and shows the transformative power that the creative medium holds for her and fellow victims. Not only does it have the ability to provide hope, but it also has the ability to tell the truth. Her art plays a crucial role in the story of the innocent, and is also a symbol of the life that expressing yourself can breathe into what was once a lifeless situation. Interwoven with flashbacks and well-written subplots to add depth to the story, this book manages to capture Stalin’s regime and document the tragedies in a moving and eye-opening manner; this book deserves to be read.

The story captivated me from the start with its depth of character and the way it prompted readers to reflect on human dignity and life as a whole. For me, the emotional element of a novel is one of the most important aspects, and Between Shades of Grey certainly delivers, because it has so much to teach. There is a bond readers form with the book which makes it a powerful read. I felt attached to Lina, Jonas, and the others. Their sorrows became mine, and reading their story made me shed tears, but also gave me hope to see them trying to keep going against all odds.

I thought that the characters were also quite detailed, and especially Lina and Andrius (victim of Stalin’s rule, along with Lina and her family). I could picture everyone in the book, and their personalities also came through. The character development was also important; I felt that Lina matured throughout the course of the novel in subtle ways, and this added to the complexity of the book. For instance, Lina learns to take care of her brother and the elderly, and becomes a more mentally strong person; she also learns to keep her head high despite everything that is happening to her. I think the relationship between Lina and her art also expands on her growth, as it shows that what she once used as a lifeline to forget became her way of preserving her story: a silent rebellion against Stalin and the cruelty she faced. Another remarkable quality about the book is how well it manages to document this episode in history and capture it in a manner that hits home. The novel deals with a topic that is underrepresented in books for young adults, and its empowering message is worth reading. Between Shades of Grey is a story about the human spirit and the human condition, but above all, it is a story for every soul— it is a story about courage and hope in all plights. Such moments of hope, woven throughout the story, makes the heart-wrenching moments digestible and gives an insight into the lives of the victims. The novel also ensures that the voices of victims, who were silenced many years ago, are heard; the book should be read to remember and acknowledge the lives of the innocent.

From a writing perspective, the book moves well, as the events in the story are timed correctly. Action and character moments balance each other out, so that it mimics real life well. Also, once Lina resolves something, something else happens that captures all of her attention. This makes the novel more realistic and relatable, and the author controls the passage of time in a way that adds to how the story builds and progresses. On the other hand, the flashbacks that Sepetys uses throughout the book aren’t as effective and often interrupt the flow of the story. I didn’t think they added as much meaning as they could have, and often felt tacked on as an afterthought.

However, all in all, it is an excellent novel, is written well, and deserves 5 out of 5 stars. I would recommend this book to ages 13 and over, as it deals with delicate topics, and it does require maturity to be able to process the horrors. In terms of the audience, I think this book is for all readers, as I feel that everyone would find this a thought-provoking read. The themes that the book deals with are universal and the emotional and mental challenges Lina goes through as she grows up is something that will resonate with readers from all walks of life. I highly recommend Between Shades of Grey— the book gives readers a lot to think about, and its unforgettable story makes it a clear winner.

Rajvi Khanjan Shroff, a 9th grader in Santa Clara, California, is an avid reader and likes to solve puzzles. She loves to learn about the world around her, and believes in looking for the beauty in the everyday! She likes the thought-provoking articles on KidSpirit, and the insight and unique perspectives they offer.

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