In Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys tells the story of the Lithuanians who were deported and forced into labor in the 1940s through her narrator Lina, a 15-year-old aspiring artist. The Soviets imprison Lina’s father and take Lina, her younger brother Jonas and her mother from their home in the middle of the night. They join other Lithuanians labeled “thieves and prostitutes” who are actually people who are considered political threats.
Lina and her family struggle to survive beatings, scarce food rations, mental torture and arctic winters. Lina escapes through her art, sketching her experiences and impressions of those who surround her. She must hide the subversive drawings from the vigilant NKVD.
I really liked the character development in this novel. The characters grow and change, and they aren’t always predictable. Brave characters have moments of weakness; selfish ones show unexpected kindness.
Lina’s mother is definitely the heroine of this story. She’s the best mother, sacrificing everything for her children, encouraging them in the worst of situations. Her compassion towards strangers and even her enemies is inspiring without being nauseating.
I could barely read the last fifty pages through my tears. So much of this story is heartbreaking, but definitely worth the read. I absolutely loved this novel.