I have so much to say about this book and its author and the event I attended at BookPeople. But before I say any of it, I need to make a disclaimer:
This book is in no way related to the erotic series. It is not at all erotic. If you’re looking for novels about sex, look somewhere else.
Thank you for paying attention. Not to knock the Fifty Shades series (ok, maybe a little), but this book is so wildly out of the league of those, both in subject matter and in degree of skill with which it is written, that I am almost personally affronted when people assume they are related texts. No. No no no no no. Also, this one came first.
Now, to the book I say yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. It is amazing. It is beautiful. It is heartfelt and heartbreaking. And most importantly, it tells the story of a group of people whose plight has been overshadowed and nearly lost to general knowledge.
“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?”
This novel was suggested to me in my first week of work at BookPeople. I was immediately drawn to both its premise and its beautiful cover. I finally got around to reading it when I found out that Ruta Sepetys herself would be visiting our store and I would get the chance to meet her.
I have to be honest, I was a little put off at first. There are no polite introductions in this novel, no quaint descriptions of what life was like before Lina’s world was pulled apart. No, it takes off immediately, with Lina’s family being arrested in the middle of the night for completely unknown reasons. From there, the plot explodes out of the gate, and Lina and her family are jostled from one place to the next without warning or comfort. They must immediately go from what seems to be an affluent, happy family to one that must learn to survive or die almost immediately. The sentences are short and simple, almost choppy sometimes. The chapters are incredibly short, especially in the beginning. While this frustrated me a bit at first, I realized how well it fit in with the events of the plot. Sepetys’ style gives short, confused glimpses of what Lina’s life suddenly becomes, and they work well for the content.
The story, despite its horror and sorrow, also fills the reader with a sense of hope. Not necessarily hope of rescue, for Lina’s plight seems impossible to overcome, but hope that, even in the absolute worst circumstances, human spirit and goodness can find a way to shine. And the novel’s treasured, slow-blooming element of romance was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak, frozen landscape.
I loved the book on its own, but when I met the author herself I just became a total fangirl. It was an intimate little gathering, and so those of us who asked questions got amazing, lengthy answers. When she told us that Lina’s story is loosely based on the experiences of her own Lithuanian family, I was enthralled. Sepetys exhibits such a passion for history and a fiery need for the unheard, forgotten voices of the past to be given a podium. She herself is cheerful, funny, and tells a great story (duh), but her intelligence and compassion are evident in everything she says. I can’t wait to read her latest book, set in 1950s New Orleans, called Out of the Easy.
I highly recommend Between Shades of Gray to everyone. In fact, I encourage people to read it and spread the word about both the book and its historical basis, so that these nearly-forgotten victims of Stalin’s evil will not be left in the shadows any longer. I am grateful to Ruta Sepetys for writing such a beautiful novel and for caring so much about the faded voices of history. 5 stars and 2 thumbs up, and a cookie on top. Lovely, lovely book!