Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I am ashamed of myself.
First because I failed to read this book sooner, and second because I’ve been complaining about quarantine nonstop without truly realizing that my life is NOT that bad.

23 comments

I am ashamed of myself.

First because I failed to read this book sooner, and second because I’ve been complaining about quarantine nonstop without truly realizing that my life is NOT that bad.

Genre: YA/adult, historical fiction, survival

Rating: 5/5 stars

Favorite quote: “What was life asking of me? How could I respond when I didn’t know the question?”

First line: “They took me in my nightgown.”

June, 1941.

15-year-old Lina Vilkas used to be a normal Lithuanian girl with dreams of becoming a professional artist. But when she and her family are arrested by the Soviet secret police and forced on a grueling journey to a labor camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia, everything in her life is dashed to pieces.

Now, starving in the desolate Arctic, separated from her father and 6,500 miles from home, Lina has only one goal: to survive.

It’s rare that a book’s ending leaves me utterly speechless.

It’s also rare that a book makes me cry actual tears (the last one was in April).

Between Shades of Gray did both. Dare I say it was even better than Salt to the Sea?

If there was any doubt in my mind that Ruta Sepetys is one of my absolute favorite authors, it has been dispelled.

Because THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD.

It’s definitely my favorite of Sepetys’ books; and now I can say that I’ve read all of them. All in the span of two months, and now I’m extremely sad because I need another one….

First of all, the writing was amazing. I’ve seen lots of people saying that Ruta Sepetys’ writing is too clipped or too vague or too dry…. but I beg to differ.

There were multiple points where I had to stop just to marvel at a quote. I have so many favorite quotes from this book, it’s not even funny. I don’t want to quote-spam too badly for copyright reasons, but…. wow.

Their faces sang songs of defeat.

This is GOOD WRITING.

I’m definitely a fan of “simplistic” writing styles; and by that I mean that sparser writing is not always something that makes me hate a book. I love the way Ruta Sepetys writes because it’s almost like a documentary. The amount of research she puts in is almost tangible.

That brings me to my next point, the point I bring up every time I review a Ruta Sepetys book (sorry!): all of her books focus on “forgotten history”, which is absolutely fascinating.

I had never heard of what happened in Lithuania during WW2, so I was shocked to learn about the deportations in Lithuania and that thousands of people were deemed enemies of the state and sent to perish in Siberia. We never learned this in school.

According to the author’s note, part of the reason these events were largely unknown- and are still largely unknown- to the rest of the world is because when the deportees were released in 1955 they were forbidden by the government to tell anyone what had happened to them.

Like Salt to the Sea, Between Shades of Gray tells a unique and forgotten story of WW2, exposing the experiences of all the people caught between both the Nazis and the Soviets; a situation, which I mentioned in my other review, that I had never even considered before or seen in historical fiction.

Our country is doomed, don’t you see? Our fate is genocide, no matter whose hands we fall into”

Besides the valuable historical context and chill-inducing writing… the plot of this book was executed wonderfully.

There was no disruptive romance, thank goodness; the hint of romance in it got a yes from me and served to further the plot and character development. (A chill and actually good romantic subplot in a YA book? Yes. Really)

All of the characters felt so real, which made the story exponentially more devastating. Like in Salt to the Sea, I felt an overwhelming attachment to the characters and this contributed heavily to the emotional impact the ending of this book had on me.

There was suspense, but it was overshadowed by a general feeling of horror, reminiscent of the feeling I had while reading Night by Elie Wiesel (another amazing but VERY upsetting book- and that one’s nonfiction so it was even more horrifying).

This book will make you very sad, but that’s the point.

This is definitely going on the list of my favorite books of all time. I was in complete awe upon finishing it. (And it ended IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE. EXACTLY how I love books to end. )

Am I going to name-drop this book as often as the other books I have loved this year? Probably.

I would recommend this book to everyone, especially if you’re a historical fiction nerd like me, though be prepared. It’s one of the saddest books I have read for a while.

I just found out that there is a movie! So that explains the title change to Ashes in the Snow. (Other than the fact that the original title sounds unfortunately similar to a certain very different book.)

I found the trailer on YouTube:

Thanks for reading today’s review! Have you read Between Shades of Gray? What did you think of it?

I’m currently in a blogging and reading slump right now so I haven’t been able to write that many book reviews, and I also have been super busy lately.

I’m probably going to start doing more list posts again soon, like the ones I used to write all the time when I first started my blog.

Any posts you want to see from me? Leave a comment!

23 comments on “Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys”

  1. YESSS! I’m so glad you enjoyed this book!! 🎉 I’m also a fan of Ruta Sepetys’s sparse writing style and short chapters. She manages to convey the emotions of all the characters using a few short words, and that just speaks to her incredible skill as an author.

    Thanks for another great review! 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s normal to complain about quarantine because it’s like nothing we have ever faced before. Don’t worry your not alone in excessively complaining!
    Haven’t the read the book but, from your review sounds like it would be up my alley:)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for your review! Another historical fiction lover here but I have yet to read Ruta Sepetys’ books! I am planning to start with Salt to the Sea and now Between Shades of Grey because of your review. 🤪😊

    Liked by 1 person

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