Review: Between Shades of Gray

Review by Fran Penfold at Sacre Coeur College in Melbourne.

Based on true events, Between Shades of Gray is an incredible and intense survival tale covering the turning of circumstances of a Lithuanian family during the early 1940’s, as Stalin moved to eradicate a huge number of Lithuanian citizens. Ruta, herself, being the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, knew of the horrors inflicted by Stalin at that time but until this book, very little of these events is widely known.

This knowledge makes the reading of this story all the more chilling and utterly compelling.

It is an incredible read as we follow the epic journey of Lina, 16 years, her younger brother Jonas and their strong and courageous mother, as they are forced to leave a comfortable lifestyle in a warm, up-market apartment in Lithuania. How can anyone wisely choose the right set of belongings to pack, when in the middle of the night an intimidating group of Stalin thugs gives them only twenty minutes to decide? Such quick and imperative choices have lasting effects on their absolute survival as the family are pushed  into a long captivity. An unimaginable imprisonment, dragging them into some of the harshest environments in Europe at that time.

It is little wonder that Ruta wishes to finally give so many of these victims a voice, in Lina, and it is incredible that it has taken so long for the world to be presented with such an accessible, readable and straightforward account of what Stalin put the Lithuanians through. It’s readability succeeds as Ruta has very successfully combined a simplistic and factual writing style to describe such horrific events.

There are bright spots in this tale woven through Lina’s eyes, as her love of drawing and writing provides her with an important creative outlet, which builds a convincing documentation of her tale.

Although ultimately this is not a feel good book, it is a truly riveting read. So much comes into play. How much can a human survive whilst struggling in the freezing Siberian climate and how important is the role of luck, in terms of your health holding up at the right time in the wrong place?

Suitable for year 9 readers, there is potential for this book to be used as a class text.

Thanks Fran.

Would you like to write a review for Penguin Teachers’ Corner?  We have copies of Father’s Day, Mission Fox, The Valley of Blood and Gold and Gladiator available for review.  Contact us if you are interested.

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