“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Between Shades of Gray is the story of a 15-year-old girl in Lithuania in 1941. Lina, her brother Jonas and their mother are ripped from their home by NKVD (Soviet officials) and sent to inner regions of Russia to work on a beet farm, sentenced to 25 years hard labor for crimes against the Soviet Union. The story traces her family’s travels from Lithuania, through Russia to their first stop, the beet farm. Lina, her family and their traveling companions lives are stripped away as they travel further into the Asian interior.
Lina’s mother refuses to sign a document accepting the guilt of her family’s crimes, and eventually causes her to be deported to Trofimovsk, a Siberian station located close to the North Pole. They arrive a few months before the polar night sets; the season of six months of night. Lina and her brother survive their first winter.
Lina is a strong character with an indomitable spirit. Her defiance fuels her perseverance as everything is taken from her; her family, the life she knew in Lithuania, friends, rights and food. Her strength and her mother’s love preserves her family through the trials in the novel, particularly as events move from bad to worse.
She finds solace in her art, her family, and hope a future with her father and friend Andrius. The novel is consistently grim, but ends on a hopeful note, guaranteeing the reader that Lina and her brother will survive.
The typical World War 2 novel focuses on Nazi Germany, and its activities in Europe. Not many novels feature the Soviet impact on non-Communists under their control. In Between Shades of Gray we catch a glimpse of what life was like for those in the Soviet satellite nations, and the upheaval felt by all levels of society under Stalin’s iron fist. From the peasant farmers to the Soviet soldiers, we see that all were prisoners under communism.
Lina is an attractive character for her strength and hope. At her darkest moment, she fought to survive and ultimately won. This novel is incredibly grim, but reinforces how vital hope is to the survival of the human spirit.
Recommended for ages 14 - 17