Note: this is not related, in any way, shape, or form, to the 50 shades of gray stuff. At all.
Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Teen historical fiction
My Rating: *****
Age Group: 16+
Official Rating: Teen Historical Fiction
Awards: New York Times and International Bestseller, New York Times Notable Book, Wall STreet Journal Best Children's Book, Golden Kite Award for Fiction, ALA Notable Book, Publishers Weekly Best Childen's Book of 2011, YALSA's Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults, School Library Journal Best Book of 2011, Booklist Best Book of 2011, Kirkus Best Book of 2011, IRA Children's and Young Adult's Book Award, Amazon Top Ten Teen Books of 2011, National Blue Ribbon Selection by Book of the Month Club, St. Louis Post Dispatch Best Book of 2011, Columbus Dispatch Best Book of 2011, SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant winner, Georgia Peach Honor Book
My Summary: In 1941, Lina is a normal girl living in a normal house in Lithuania. Her father works at a university, her mother is beautiful, she has a little brother, and she has a great talent for drawing. Then, one night, the house is broken into. Lina is arrested in her nightgown.
She and her mother and brother Jonas are thrown into a truck with various other people, including a crabby bald man who has a broken leg and wants to die, a school teacher, a librarian, a mother with daughters, a woman who has just given birth and her baby (both fresh from the delivery room), a few others, and a boy Lina's age and his mother. The men have, for the most part, been separated. Lina wants to find her father, and so does the boy, but he bonds with Jonas and not Lina. On the outside.
As these people go through the worst that the world can throw at them, they become closer, helping each other. The boy, Andrius, looks after the others as best he can, especially Jonas, and often Lina, though she doesn't realize it.
They are dragged all over and forced to live in horrible conditions. They watch the baby die, and its mother get shot in the head. Andrius's mother is forced into prostitution in order to protect her son. Whatever can happen, it does.
And yet within all this horror, hope is always there. It's a beautiful story and, unlike most WWII stories, it does not leave the reader feeling depressed and sad. It leaves the reader filled with hope for the human race. As twisted as our condition is by original sin, we are still made in the image of God.
Word of warning: this book absolutely has an age group. All inappropriate things are dealt with as such, and not detailed too much, but nonetheless I would rate it as being on the higher end of PG-13. A woman is taken hostage right after giving birth and there are a few comments about blood and not producing milk. She is later shot in the head. Lina is groped, very briefly, by an enemy officer, and feels dirty for a good long time after that. She does not fight, she's too terrified, but her pain after the fact is heartbreaking. People die horrible deaths, people consider options not entirely moral in order to survive. Thievery is a way of survival. Andrius' mother is forced into prostitution but we only find out via Andrius, who says little about it out of shame. All evils are dealt with as such and not glorified as good.
Note on the author: Ruta Sepetys is part Lithuanian and actually visited Lithuanian relatives as part of her research for this project. She dug deep into a story that few know about. We know of the persecution of the Jews and the Catholics. We have stories from countries that were affected by Stalin and Hitler, but I admit I wasn't even aware of the suffering of Lithuania until now. What she brings to light, some of it from true experiences, some of it beautifully imagined fiction, is shocking. And powerful. And horrifying. And great. It is full of hope.
It's a wonderful book. I would read it again and again. Buy it. Read it. Savor every bit of it. Andrius has a special Russian word for Lina: Krasivaya.
I would call this book krasivaya.
No cheating now. Do not go and look that word up. I can assure you that it would really spoil the book--quite a bit. It would subtract from its power. Really. Just read the book, it'll tell you what it means when it's necessary, when it's perfect.