Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a fabulous historical fiction novel for teens that is due out in March, 2011. Here’s a quote from the about-the-author blurb:
Ruta Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee. The nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia disappeared from maps in 1941 and did not reappear until 1990. As this is a story seldom told, Ruta wanted to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during Stalin’s cleansing of the Baltic region.
Believe me, I’m not proud of my ignorance. This truly is a story seldom told and I imagine many American teens reading this book might have to be reminded that this is HISTORICAL fiction and not a dystopian fantasy. In 1940, the Soviet army under orders from Stalin invades Lithuania and the country is officially annexed into the Soviet Union. While Hitler is orchestrating the Holocaust, Stalin acts to eliminate opposition in the countries he has taken over.
The story is told by Lina, a fifteen-year old girl arrested along with her parents and younger brother in June of 1941. Crammed into boxcars with hundreds of others, they are deported to work camps in Siberia. There are no rational explanations for why, and no recourse. Staying alive and staying together very soon become the only things that matter.
Sepetys tells this story with fine writing and a lot of heart. There are short flashbacks as Lina remembers happier, normal times. Lina is a talented artist and finds ways to document her story with pictures, sometimes trying to use these drawings to get word to the outside. Keeping hope alive, hoping to not be forgotten by everything and everyone in their past, becomes critical to the mental health of the prisoners.
This book is written for teens, and it is definitely Lina’s coming-of-age story, but I feel it has huge crossover appeal, much like The Book Thief by Zusak, and that it would make a great book club choice. Teens and adults need this reminder of the atrocities committed in the past by the all-too-powerful. Something about history repeating itself…