“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
I’ve never really cried reading a book (perhaps a slight wateriness in the eyes, but a tear has never escaped); I’m sad to say that I’ve cried in at least a movie or two, but never in a book, not even in Where the Red Fern Grows like the rest of my sixth grade class. However two nights ago, around midnight, that changed. What was it about Ruta Sepetys' novel, Between Shades of Gray ? I’m not really sure. There is so much I feel about this novel that I don’t even know if I could put into words right now, but I hope I can convey at least a fraction of the beauty, power and importance of this incredible story.
Sepetys took me on a journey on so many levels. From the very first page, and especially the moment I stepped foot onto the car with Lina, I could feel that something was different about this book and that somehow, through mere words on paper, part of me had become part of Lina and I was one with her throughout her entire journey, and that her story wouldn’t be one I would easily forget. Through the highs and utter lows, through the tinglings of first love to the pain of twelve hours of tortuous labor, through the anxiety and the despair, through the longing and hope through the terrifying fear and a most powerful love and an ability to retain faith and believe in humanity.
As readers of this novel, we are ripped along with the Vilkas family from the safe sanctuary of home. We witness the questioning eyes of young and old, from the “bald man” to the little girl with her dolly on her knee to a newborn baby who had “been alive only minutes but was already considered a criminal by the Soviets”. Death, sickness, and devastation spread rampantly, fear is instilled by a reign of terror. Will any one survive? Where will they take Lina and her family? As you read you will wonder how did anyone actually survive this? And how is it that they kept the flame of hope from
being whisked away and that love in so many forms, first love, love of family, love of God, love of country and man, could take root and spread in a place so solidly cold and heartless.
This is truly an incredible work of art, one that should be read by as many people possible. Thank you Ruta Sepetys for this inspiring and powerful jar of words and images, with a story that honors those who have left us, those who persevere to this day and one that will carry all of their stories into the hearts of many.
From the Author’s note at the end:
“Some wars are about bombing. For the people of the Baltics, this war was about believing... They chose hope over hate and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light.”
Some of my favorite quotes:
-“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”
-“...little pink face in a bundle...The child had been alive only minutes but was already considered a criminal by the Soviets.”
-“I scanned the group...I saw courage, anger, fear and confusion. Others were hopeless. They had already given up. Which was I?”
-“ ‘Are you always so pleasant?’ ”
-“I hated them, the NKVD and the Soviets. I planted a seed of hatred in my heart. I swore it would grow to be a massive tree whose roots would strangle them all.”
-“ ‘Do you really think they need our permission, our signatures, to do what they’re doing to us? Stalin needs to break our will. Don’t you understand? He knows if we sign some stupid papers, we’ll give up. He’ll break us.’ ”
-“My art teacher had said that if you breathed deeply and imagined something, you could be there. You could see it, feel it. During out standoffs with the NKVD, I learned to do that. I clung to my rusted dreams during the times of silence. It was at gunpoint that I fell into every hope and allowed myself to wish from the deepest part of my heart...he thought he was torturing us. But we were escaping into a stillness within ourselves. We found strength there.”
-“ ‘No. Don’t be scared. Don’t give them anything, Lina, not even your fear.’ ”
-“I pulled my coat closed and put my hands in my pocket. That’s when I felt it. The stone.”
-“Hello Lina. You’ve gotten to page 278. That’s pretty good!... Are you really on page 300 or are you skipping ahead now?”
-“There were only two possible outcomes in Siberia. Success meant survival. Failure meant death. I wanted life. I wanted to survive.”
Some other great reviews and articles on the book:
From the NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/books/review/childrens-books-between-shades-of-gray-by-ruta-sepetys.htm
From "A Chair, Fireplace and a Tea Cozy" blog: http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/teacozy/2011/12/19/review-between-shades-of-gray/
From EW on the unfortunate confusion with that other "book": http://shelf-life.ew.com/2012/04/30/between-shades-of-gray-discover-the-book-thats-being-confused-for-fifty-shades-of-grey/
From "School For Us" blog: http://alexml.blogspot.com/2012/03/book-review-between-shades-of-gray-by.html