Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?
–Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys
AUTHOR: Ruta Sepetys
GENRE: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
RATING: 3/5 stars
SUMMARY: This book follows a Lithuanian family that was arrested by the Soviet Union for helping another family repatriate. Lina, her mother, and her brother are sent to a collective farm in Serbia while her father is sent to a prison. Lina is also a young, aspiring artist who can communicate with the outside world with her drawings of her everyday experiences. Lina must come together with the fellow Lithuanians that she has been herded into a cattle car with and learn what it means to give up her freedom in order to survive. If she or her family members were to instead defect from the group, it could be the difference between life or death at the hands of the NKVD officers.
THOUGHTS: I think I may have lost something from the experience of this book by choosing to read in via audiobook. It just did not seem as intriguing as I heard it would be.
First of all, I wasn’t too impressed with Sepetys’ writing. It seemed like she was writing just as your average YA author was, which wasn’t necessarily bad, but after all the hype I thought it would be something different and better. I enjoyed the strength of Lina’s voice as the protagonist, and I definitely think she is a young, female YA protagonist that other young females could look up to.
The events in this book were heartbreaking and cruel, but I felt more uncomfortable hearing about them than I did sad. I did not feel close enough to any of the characters to feel truly saddened for any of them; you know how your favorite characters feel like your best friends? These only felt like distant strangers to me. Even Lina, who is the narrator of this book, felt a little inaccessible to me. I felt sorry for her, but I didn’t experience her pain with her.
I did enjoy this book though- I thought it was interesting, especially since you never hear about Stalin’s victims that were sent abroad, which was one of the main motivations that the author had in writing this book. It kind of reminded me of The Book Thief- but instead of stealing books, this young girl in the middle of the events of World War 2 drew pictures in order to secretly communicate the horrors of her experience with the world, which is such an interesting premise.
I also admired the relationships between the characters, which seemed so genuine and kind. Of course, I would believe it harder to show common human decency in such an extreme situation as these characters found themselves in, but these tragedies actually brought out the best in Septys’ characters, which was hauntingly beautiful.
It was not a bad read, I just wish the hype didn’t set my expectations so high.