Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

between shades of gray

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

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Title: Between Shades of Gray

Series (if applicable): N/A, standalone

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher (if applicable): Philomel

Genre(s): WWII, Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Historical

Recommended Age: 16+, due to some cursing as well as some inappropriate scenes.
My Rating: four stars

My Review:

I know what you are thinking, especially when the title is similar to Fifty Shades of Grey. I promise this book is nothing like it, although I haven’t a clue (besides it being a mature book) what FSoG is about since I’ve never read it.


This book is based off of the true stories of those who went through a horrible time and I’ll admit I’m one of those people who were unaware about what Stalin did. Although this is a historical fiction, this book opened my eyes to what the Lithuanians went through during World War II. The Soviet soldiers treated the Lithuanians like dirt, or as they called them in the books, pigs. This brings me back to how the Nazi’s treated the Jews, and how similar the situations were.

Lina was an interesting character to follow. Like, I felt for her so many times throughout the book. Her character was deep and I was fond of her love for art. I was really emotional by the time I was barely in the book. The author did a great job of showing us the truth of what they went through, even if it’s fiction. I keep mentioning fiction, just because it’s something that should be noted. 😉
Ugh, so many sad moments and happy moments in this book. Lina fell in love with Andrius. She learned forgiveness, as in forgiving and having compassion for a Soviet soldier who we find out helped someone we know in the end.

The one thing I felt was unnecessary was the excessive swearing. There were quite a bit of bad words, some the more common ones (such as h*ll) and others way worse. I was really disappointed that the characters would even do so, and although I understand they were in this rough situation, but think before you speak. Many characters had diarrhea of the mouth, folks.

There was a few inappropriate instances, one which was really graphic in my opinion.

Graphic scene below. Prepare yourself or skip this review if you’re uncomfortable!






The people in the cattle car were ushered out and told to talk a shower. They basically had to take all of their clothes off, causing them to be naked in front of men. A Soviet soldier touched Lina’s breasts after she was rude towards him…

My perspective on the inappropriate scenes is this: They were necessary. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would never purposely read a book with bad content like this. However, in this case, it gives us an insight of what the Lithuanians went through. I’m glad that the author did this, because she totally could have chosen to sugarcoat everything or just keep the truth out in general. Although I agree most books should never include any bad content, this one just wasn’t the case. I know many of you may not agree with me, but this is just my opinion on the matter.

Overall, I think this is a book worth reading. We need to be completely aware of what people went through during WWII, and this book totally gives us insight on that as well as giving a voice to those who were silenced. Well done, Ruta Sepetys! 😀
Four stars is what I’m rating Between Shades of Gray, mainly because of swearing.

Content Warnings: Violence (Soviet soldiers hitting people, etc); some death (some mentions of dead bodies being dragged out of the cattle car, etc); excessive cussing; romance (clean between Lina and her lover, some hints at sexual scenes between Andrius’s mother and Soviet soldiers, etc.

This review was written in my own words and opinions.


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