Hot Key Carnegie Challenge Book 3: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Our reading challenge has been slightly delayed by London Book Fair but we remain dedicated to the cause! We WILL read the eight books before the winner is announced in June…

Over the last few weeks we’ve been reading Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys:

The blurb goes: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously-and at great risk-documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

We’ve had lots of people tell us how much they loved this book on Twitter, so let’s continue the discussion below!

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6 responses to “Hot Key Carnegie Challenge Book 3: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

  1. I raced through this one. I found it really interesting to see the World War II angle from the Russian side – I’ve read a lot of stories from this period, so it was fascinating to see something from a different viewpoint, though equally harrowing subject matter. I found Lina a wonderful narrator, and really was rooting for her throughout. I obviously felt incredibly sad at various points as you can imagine.

    It feels odd to say I ‘loved’ it bearing in mind the subject matter. But I sort of did. That said, I found the very end a little too sentimental (the sign off of the letter?) and I forgot when I was reading it that it wasn’t a true story, so when I came to the end I felt a tiny bit let down, but that will teach me to pay more attention next time!

  2. Little M and I both loved this one. Sarah, I agree with you on the sentimental tone but I think it was apparent throughout. I’m partly pleased about this though because I think it takes a slight edge off the horror for younger readers (mind you, it’s only slight). I also felt like it was a ‘true retelling’ but I’d been hooked by watching Sepety’s booktrailer which was lengthy and had us all in tears. The story, although, fictional, has it’s roots in her family’s past and I think she did her family history justice with this novel. It’s certainly a story that will stick in both our minds.

  3. I think like Sarah I found the Lithuanian/Russian setting one of the most interesting parts of this book. There’s a moment where one of the characters declares that ‘Hitler will save us’ – which seems ironically ridiculous but I think people forget that Hitler was considered to be a great ally against Communism pretty much up until he invaded Poland! And also that we were then allies with Stalin – and thus conveniently overlooked trainloads of people being worked to death in Siberia.

    For that reason it was really interesting to read a WW2 narrative from this unusual perspective, and I think the writing is lovely – you’re really drawn into Lina’s story and I would say all of the characters are believably drawn, to the point that it can make very uncomfortable reading when things go badly for them.

    My only tiny criticism is that at points I felt like I was being overly emotionally manipulated. I didn’t feel the back-and-forth narrative was needed – I was already highly concerned for Lina and her family without it being emphasised over and over how lovely their family was before the war. But that’s only one small thing in what is otherwise a brilliant and interesting book!

  4. So much to praise about this book; compelling story, as well as lovingly researched and written. Bravo, Ruta! I’m afraid I do have to agree with Naomi’s “tiny criticism,” though. Also, I am beginning to wonder if Zusak’s exceptional THE BOOK THIEF has ruined me somewhat for this kind of book–Lord, I adore that book:-D

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