Friday, April 20, 2012

Hard Times: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray Book
Memories of The Endless Steppe haunted my reading of Cybils Young Adult Fiction finalist Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys's story of a Lithuanian teenager arrested with her family by the Russian police just as World War II swept across the European continent.  Torn from a rather privileged childhood, Lina and her brother have only their mother to protect them as they are herded into cattle cars and shipped across Russia to a succession of labor camps, each grimmer than the one before.

Sepetys gives Lina a believable voice, from her naive and reckless dedication to her art through her understanding of the dangers they face, both from the bullets and blows of their captors to the slow draining of their souls and selves from the unremitting brutality and deceit. Lina tries various schemes in attempts to reconnect with her father, but the realism in the story prevents any of them from succeeding. The cruelty and sadism of the Russian guards are sadly convincing, as are the appalling conditions at the Arctic camp they end up in. Although there is an epilogue providing a hint that some characters survive, overall the story is as tragic as the time period suggests.

I'll see if my son will try this; he's not much for historical fiction. It would be interesting to see if he understand the context; for example, why some people hope Hitler will save them, or the importance of the Jewish man's concealment of his religion, or what happened to the country of Lithuania at this time. (The library wanted it back before I could talk him into trying it.)

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