Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA Historical Fiction, WWII
Release Date: April 3rd, 2012
It’s 1941 and fifteen-year-old artist Lina Vilkas is on Stalin’s extermination list. Deported to a prison camp in Siberia, Lina fights for her life, fearless, risking everything to save her family. It’s a long and harrowing journey and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
So conclusion reached: Ruta Sepetys is not for me.
I want to start with the positives.
The piece of history that this book tackled is the deportations of Baltic citizens to the USSR which is barely talked about. I honestly only knew them because of this book. I commend Sepetys for discussing these injustices because what these people went through deserves to be told. The novel was clearly well researched. Also I really appreciated how nuanced Sepetys’ portrayal of the events were. There were some (really bleak) details that just punch in the gut as there is no sugarcoating. The themes of hope and solidarity were well handled and those sections were where the book moved me the most.
That is to say I really like what this novel was trying to be. The execution just lost me.
There is something just so readable about the style. The chapters are really short, the sentences simple. I just glided through this whole novel. And yet… I thought it was kind of weak. Don’t get me wrong, there were some sentences that were incredibly lyrical, but they were sparse. The protagonist is really young (15), so maybe that’s why Sepetys decided to write so simply, but it just didn’t work for me. The dialogue was also very generic.
The pacing was also very wonky. Sepetys is a very moment-to-moment writer, kind of like Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. But she doesn’t have the style to pull it off, so it came off as dull when it shouldn’t have. The first third of the book looked only at a couple of weeks, but then months go by in a page. It’s so uneven… Also the ending felt abrupt and unearned.
What I struggled the most with were the characters. Lina was the most developed character out of them all, and it still felt like tell rather than show. We were told she was headstrong, but there were very few occasion where she actually did something that could be considered even stubborn. The side characters were even flatter. Jonas, the little brother, was often the motivation behind most of Lina’s actions, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing about his personality besides the fact that he looked up to Andrius. And the rest of the cast never felt real; they were but a couple of repeated traits. (This was also my main problem with Salt to the Sea, Sepetys’ other WWII book.)
Overall, I really wanted to like this just like Salt to the Sea. Stories like this deserve to be told, and I really appreciate the amount of care Sepetys put into this book. I just didn’t connect with the actual storytelling.
- The cover is just gorgeous.
- Also the romance was bit unnecessary? I would rather have had a strong friendship… but then again I nearly always do.
- I actually thought the flashbacks added to the story and often drew interesting parallels. They rarely felt obtrusive.
- Also that’s an unfortunate title… even though thematically it fits 200% better for a book like this than 50 shades….