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4.7 out of 5 stars114
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2011
We have all read many books telling the horrific story of the suffering inflicted on the Jewish population during WW2, but I wonder how many of us know anything about the millions of innocents murdered on the orders of Stalin. It is certainly something I was only dimly aware of. I know more now. This brilliant new book follows the life of a 15 year old Lithuanian girl, who, along with the rest of her family, is arrested and sent to Siberia following the Russian occupation of her country. They are taken from their warm, comfortable home, transported huge distances in lorries and railway trucks and then made to work on the land in freezing conditions, while receiving little food and sheltering in poorly contructed hovels. It is a bleak and tragic tale, but in the midst of such suffering there are astonishing acts of human kindness, friendships are born and even love manages to blossom. An amazing book. Read it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2012
Alison: [...]

Lina lives a happy life in Lithuania, the daughter of a university professor she enjoys life as any teenager her age would at that time. But now Stalin has annexed Lithuania and all people who pose any kind of threat to his regime must be dealt with. Lina, her brother and Mother are woken one night by Soviet Guards, put into cattle cars on a train as their lives as they knew them will never be the same again.

This is a beautifully written story and I defy anyone not too need tissues at the ready by the end. The subject matter is bleak, undeniably, but there is such strength and hope held within the book too. Although the conditions within the work camps in Siberia are horrific and described as such, the focus within the book is on how people will band together and help each other, even when they have very little themselves. A book such as this could have quite easily focused on the darker side of human nature, yet here you are even left feeling some level of sympathy for one of the guards in the camp. The quality of the writing really brings the story alive and it is very obvious that a huge amount of research was done in writing the book, as it feels very real.

Lina is a really strong central character. She is very real and hasn't been romanticised in any way. She is far from perfect and doesn't always do the right thing. This only serves to make her more believable.

The only aspect that I found slightly disappointing was the ending. The theme of hope is carried through right to the end and the ending does give the reader hope that there is life at the end of the tunnel for these characters. I don't feel that the epilogue was needed though. Those two pages on their own raised questions that I wanted answering, questions I wouldn't have had had it not been included. I don't know if there are plans for a second book, if there are it could explain the epilogues inclusion.

Verdict: Haunting and beautifully written. A bleak book that at the same time highlights the better side of human nature.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
I first heard of Between Shades of Gray during the summer of 2010, and knew immediately after reading the summary that I would like it. Anything set during WWII automatically makes its way onto my bookshelf, and I usually end up loving it. Prime examples are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Once by Morris Gleitzman and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, which are all brilliant and are on my list of books I never stop talking about. Between Shades of Gray is now also on that list, and I haven't stopped recommending it since I read it. As a debut novel, it's outstanding, and as a piece of WWII literature, it's honest, important and long overdue.

Between Shades of Gray chronicles the life of 15-year-old Lina and her family, who are deported from Lithuania to Siberia at the top of the Arctic Circle. In all my years of personal WWII research, through reading YA and adult fiction and watching numerous films and TV shows, I've never come across anything to do with the Baltic States and their involvement in the war. I don't think it's a story that has been focused on or told much, which is why I think Ruta's book is so significant. I'm almost 24 years old, and until a couple of weeks ago I had no idea that Lithuanian people went through what they did at the hands of the Soviets, and being introduced to this part of the war was like discovering an untold story that has been buried for years.

As I'm sure you can imagine, most of the NKVD officers who travelled with Lina and her fellow prisoners were horrible human beings. They had no qualms with killing or hurting adults and children in their charge, and often saw it as a funny game. They were there to do a job, and subsequently treated the deportees as nothing more than an object that needed to be moved from one place to another. At times their actions were genuinely hard to read about and, as the novel progressed, I found myself dreading what I knew was going to inevitably happen. Unspeakable evil took place in all factions of the Second World War, and no matter how much I see or read, it never gets easier to imagine.

Ruta wrote this book as a work of fiction, but did extensive research beforehand which led to many real-life survivor's stories being interspersed with Lina's fictional account. Knowing that before I read the book made it even more heartbreaking and eye-opening, as the whole time I was wondering which scene actually happened and which poor person really did lose their life to the Soviets. It made it all the more real knowing that the story was grounded in so much truth and reality, and I think the Latvian heritage has been preserved with an enormous amount of respect. The memory of the millions of people involved in this war, and those wars before and after, deserves nothing less, and I'm really glad Ruta told this story in the way she did.

I knew Between Shades of Gray would reduce me to a sobbing mess - I knew that before I even read one single page - but I wasn't prepared for it to affect me the way it has. It's become one of those books that has engrained itself in my mind and one that, so far, I find myself coming back to at regular intervals. If every school library doesn't have a copy of this on their shelves, it will be nothing short of a crime against all that the education system stands for. It's a hopeful story that needs to be read, absorbed and passed on but, most importantly, it's a story that needs to be remembered and talked about for many years to come.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Lina Vilkas is an ordinary teenage girl living in Lithuania, and her favourite means of expression is drawing; she is a keen artist and admires the artist Edvard Munch. As the novel opens she is sitting writing to her cousin Joana, when in the space of a moment, her life suddenly changes forever. Lithuania and the other Baltic States had fallen under Soviet occupation, and one day in June 1941, Lina, together with her mother Elena and her little brother Jonas, is dragged from her home by Soviet secret police with just a hastily packed suitcase, and taken on a long horrific journey with many others, squashed into train carts like cattle, across Russia to a labour camp in Siberia. Thrown together like this, people forge friendships in the struggle to get by, some more surprising and unlikely than others. Throughout this tortuous ordeal, Lina draws whenever she can, and using whatever makeshift equipment for paper and brushes, but she is determined to try and record the people and places and events, in desperate hope of them somehow reaching her father one day; his whereabouts are unknown to the rest of the family when they are taken.

This is an epic tale of sadness, hardship, and endurance, told from the viewpoint of a young girl with a strong will to survive, and there is such a strength of spirit and determination in the face of the cruelty they suffer. It doesn't seem appropriate to say I `enjoyed' this novel, but it is well-written, very convincingly from Lina's point of view, and tells of an aspect of World War Two that I knew little about, having read much less about region and what happened, than novels featuring Germany, England and France during this period.

The author is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee and she lives in the USA, and she wanted to tell this story so that more people would be aware of all those from the Baltic states who lost their lives in Stalin's purges, as even those who survived many years in Siberia and returned to live in Lithuania and the other countries were unable to speak of what happened to them for so long as they were still living under Soviet rule until 1991. She has based some of the events on real first-hand accounts from survivors.

I certainly learned from this poignant novel and am glad so many will read this about know a little about what happened. I loved the ending to the story and what Lina had done.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 18 July 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a book targetted at the young adult market but it so effectively highlights the horrific truth of the treatment of Lithuanians by the Soviet army that I would encourage all ages to read it. It tells of the transportation of a young girl, with her mother and brother, from their home in Lithuania to the wilds of Siberia. The narrative voice is 15 year old Lina and there is an effective juxtaposition between the horrific jouney through Russia and her previous life at home.
It is a harrowing tale that moves the reader and encouraged me to look into the historical details of this period. Although it is a fictional account it does draw on the real experiences of the author's family and I believe this adds depth and truth.
I will be encouraging family members to read it as it is a book that makes you think and feel!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2015
I did not know what to expect when I first started to read this book as I originally got it as an impulse buy from the bookstore during one of my trips to the Town Centre. However, I do not regret buying this book in the slightest.

Between Shades of Gray follows the story of Lina and her family during The Purge that occurred around the 1940’s, where the NKVD were ordered to arrest anyone who they thought had the ability to go against Stalin (who was a paranoid meglomaniac) and send them to the Gulags (Labour Camps) in Siberia.

Due to her father being a University Lecturer, Lina’s family is subject to this arrest and what follows is the haunting but mesmerizing tale of their journey over 4000 km of land from Lithuania to Siberia.

I understand that this genre is not for everyone, as recalls past events and not everyone has the patience to read books that involve a vast amount of historical background. However, I would encourage anyone to give this book a chance and not just cast it to the side as so many people would think to do. It not only widens you knowledge of the true events that occurred in 1941, which were extremely harrowing, but Ruta manages to describe it in a way that you forget that you are reading about real life events and instead you are immersed into a story about love, hope and how, even though it may be the last thing you want to do, you must stick by those people who care about you, as at some point in life that relationship might be the only thing you have left.

If you enjoy hearing about different books, take a look at my blog -
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2014
I hadn't heard of this until Wednesday when I was in the school library and the librarian recommended it to me. As I am not even 15 yet, only this year am I allowed to read what is called the 'Senior Fiction' section at our library, (only for yr10 and above) which is why I had not come across this before.

In my GCSE History class we have recently finished the Cold War unit, where we looked at Stalin's reign over Eastern Europe. I had of course heard about Hitler's persecution and genocide of the Jews, and then I was briefly told about Stalin taking control of the Baltic States. Upon finding this book I realized that no one knows about the horrors that they suffered at the hands of Stalin. Even after they returned back to where they were from, they couldn't tell what they'd been through for fear of what would happen, as they were still under Soviet control until 1991.

Ruta Sepetys, an American author from Lithuanian heritage, tells this story from the perspective of Lina, a 15 and then 16 year old Lithuanian girl. It all starts on night when Lina, her mother Elena and her younger brother Jonas are taken from their home and taken to Siberia. Even though they are living through pure constant terror, Lina still finds friendship and even love. She never gives up hope.

Although this book is fiction, it is based on fact. I'm glad Ruta told this story, because otherwise I don't think I would ever have known what happened to the Lithuanians, Latvians or anyone who was harmed by Stalin's regime.
I would recommend this to anyone. It's a fantastic story and I'm glad I got the opportunity to read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
15-year-old Lina's life is turned upside down when she, her mother and her brother are taken from her home in the middle of the night by the Soviet soldiers who have recently invaded Lithuania. All Lina knows is that her father's been separately taken (his fate unknown) and the Soviets have labelled them as thieves and subversives. They're deported to Siberia to work in a labour camp to atone for their "crimes". The guards are brutal. Life is harsh. For sensitive, artistic Lina, the horrors are unimaginable but she continues to hope because hope is all that keeps her and her family alive ...

Ruta Sepetys's debut YA novel is a harrowing, brutal and personal tale of the horrors suffered by the people of the occupied Baltic states at the hands of the Soviet invaders. There are times when it's difficult to read and I think that its impact is very much let down by an abrupt ending, but this is a powerful debut that well deserved its critical reception and deals with a subject that the West is willing to brush under the carpet.

Intelligent and sharp tongued, Lina's a little too fast and free with her opinion in a world where opinions can get you killed. Seen through her eyes, the journey to Siberia and camp life is particularly bleak and it is at times difficult to read the casual cruelty of the guards (which extends to killing children and grief stricken mothers). Her relationship with Andrius, whose mother is bullied into serving as a comfort woman for the guards is fraught with tension with each suspecting the other's motives. I enjoyed the way Sepetys shows the small acts of kindness that sustain them through their hardship.

Central to the book though is the relationship between Lina and her mother, who speaks Russian and who keeps the Lithuanians united against the Russians but doesn't judge those who give in. The mother is an incredible character and I loved her strength and dignity and the lengths she'll go to in order to protect her family.

Although based on the experiences of Sepetys's family, unfortunately the book's let down by an abrupt ending that's topped off with a postscript that felt tacked on. Given the awfulness of Lina's predicament, I wanted to know how she makes it out of it and could easily have read a longer book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
To us in the West the Second World War and Hitler's actions against the Jews (although he persecuted more than just them), have always meant that what was happening in the Soviet Union has been sidelined. One obvious reason at the time was that the Allies needed Russian military strength to help fight Germany, but since then Stalin and his purges have been overlooked by many.

Ruta Sepetys here gives us a look into what happened in the Baltic States, once Russia had gained a foothold. Like the German government with their lists of Jews, etc., the Russian government were the same, deciding who were going to be killed and who were going to be deported. These lists were in most cases like some kind of lottery, if the government thought you were anti-Soviet in any way, and then there you were, your fate at the hands of others. Told through the eyes of fifteen year old Lina we first see her, her mother and her little brother being taken by the NKVD, from their homeland of Lithuania. The father has already disappeared. Transported by cattle trucks towards Siberia this family, and other people that they meet, are being led into uncertainty and fear.

Not knowing where they are going, or where they ultimately will end up this novel is gripping, and is hard to put down. At the same time the story is interspersed with Lina looking back at their former life. Instead of giving long flowery prose and long chapters, Ruta has opted for short chapters, with a minimal journal approach to the story. This in itself makes it feel more real. Actually talking to survivors the kind of things that happen in this book are taken from real life, giving it extra weight. At about 340 pages long this doesn't in fact take that long to read, as it draws you straight in and holds your attention, and is well worth reading.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2011
[...] watch it before reading a book.
I am so happy that finally the world has opportunity to know what my nation had to suffer.
Thank you for the author so much-the story is written perfectly!
Thank you,readers, for your comments and please please pass around this book!
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