Between Shades of Gray
Ruta Sepetys

What happens to the people in a country that “disappears” from the map? It depends on the conquering country, but I would imagine that many displaced people groups suffer similar things to Lina and her family.

Lina and her family are part of the large Lithuanian (and Latvian/Estonian/Finnish/etc.) deportation enacted under Stalin’s brutal regime in Russia and its neighboring countries. Lina’s family is deported to Siberia, where they survive (some of them) for an unbelievable length of time.

This deportation took place around the time of the Nazi Holocaust; we often focus on Hitler’s reign of terror and forget about what was going on in neighboring Russia. For that reason, this is an important book. To illustrate how people can treat other humans as completely devoid of the image of God–this is another reason why this book is important. To help us understand why people groups are so desperate to regain their cultural and national identity–another reason why this book is important.

I think Sepetys writes well; I thought the epilogue was unnecessary. She gives some people names; others are identified only by characteristics: “bald man” or “girl with the doll.” This technique helps us realize how strangers were thrown together and forced to survive together–and how they managed to do so through helping one another and serving one another (and sacrificing their own good in the process).

I’m not sure that this book is dramatically “better” or even “different” than many Holocaust books; still, it is about a different people group and shows a new angle on that era of history. Official Shades of Gray website.

Recommended for middle school and up