(Gerard's review, 5++ stars)
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a very good historical fiction book about Lithuanians who were deported during WW II by the Russians. This book is about a 15-yr.-old girl, Lena, who is very brave and loves to draw. She is the cousin of Joana, one of the main characters in Salt to the Sea, that is taken by the NKVD during at night along with her mother and younger brother, Jonas. First, they are crammed into a train with a bunch of others who were "on the list" going to who knows where. Lena becomes friends with Andrius, a boy her age who is also on the train. The second part of the book is about her time at the farm where the Russians try to force them to sign a paper admitting they are criminals and willing to work on the farm for 25 years. Those who sign get treated slightly better than those who don't. Andrius signs but Lena does not so Andrius tries his best to help her and her family. Living in unsanitary conditions with barely anything to eat, she is forced to dig with a trowel all day or carry 50 lb. sacks of grain. Can things get any worse? Oh yes. The third part of the book takes Lena, her mother and brother to Siberia but not Andrius, way up into the Arctic Circle where they must use the bricks and wood that the Russians brought along to build barracks and a bakery for the soldiers. They have to make huts for themselves out of driftwood, moss and whatever else they can scrounge up from the trash the soldiers throw away during temperatures below zero! All through this book, you wonder along with them if they will survive and if they will ever be reunited with their father and Andrius.
The author does a fantastic job of introducing the reader to other characters as Lena meets them so it is pretty easy to keep them straight. I really liked this book better than Salt to the Sea because it had better continuity with just telling the story from Lena's viewpoint. I couldn't help but thinking how I would react if I was in that situation. I'm pretty sure I would have given up. These people went through awful things but the book did have some high points with the romance thread, the birthday and Christmas celebrations. This book stayed with me after I was done and needed time to process it before jumping into my next read. I must say, I liked this as much as I liked The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
Also liked Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys but not as much as this one.
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