While doing my coursework in YA lit, I had to choose a variety of books from different genres.
Historical fiction brought me to the (fairly) recently acclaimed Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septuys.
(Now, this might strike you as ironic, but please continue and we won’t remark on the irony.)
Although we’ve been fairly well informed on the horrors of Hitler’s Holocaust in World War II, we do not often make the connection to Stalin as the other dictator responsible for the massacre of millions of people. For more information, see these links: Democide, Stalin, “Lethal Politics” by R.J. Rummel, and Rummel’s blog. Stalin was responsible for more deaths than Hitler.
In Between Shades of Gray, Lina, 16, is looking forward to holidays, cute boys, and engaging hobbies like any other teenager. The war changes all of that as the twin pincers of Stalin and Hitler converge on Lithuania. When the Soviets invade their country, her family is among the first to be relocated. Lina, her mother, and her younger brother are shoved onto a crowded train and shipped over a few weeks to a labor concentration camp in Siberia while her father, captured separately, was sent to a prison camp. Lina is forced to grow up and be responsible for herself and her family in the harsh conditions of the concentration camp. She uses her drawing skills to try and earn extra food and get word to her father. Even though they are Lithuanians and have done nothing to deserve their treatment, they are being forced to sign papers stating they are criminals and serve so many years of work in the concentration camp. Lina, her family, and many others refuse to sign, and they discover the labor camp is not the worst place to be. They hope in America, the end of the war, and for kindness, but for some these blessings come too late.
Some might find this a depressing book. It could be, but people like this actually lived and died and were not remembered in the annals of history. This book makes an effort to remember and honor those Lithuanians and others who were forcibly relocated under no just cause and starved, worked, or simply put to death. I love the title of this book because it bares the heart and soul of the novel, that even in a bleak world, just on the very fringes of life looking into the chasm of death, there still exists the gray–an area where good and bad mingle together and can both create chaos and unimaginable beauty of love, honor, generosity, and sacrifice.
Truly it is one of the best historical fiction novels for teens at this time and should be studied in the area of The Diary of Anne Frank or Clara’s War.
Rating: MUST READ! Loved it!