Ruta Sepetys’ debut BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY illuminates a part of history that few people know about – Stalin’s deportation of Lithuanian people in the 1940’s. The main character, Lina, is in the middle of writing a letter to her cousin when her family is taken. Shoved onto a truck along with her little brother and mother, she is relieved when they stop at a hospital, thinking that the wounded who struggled with the soldiers are going to be treated. Instead, a young Lithuanian mother, still wearing bloody bedclothes and carrying her minutes-old infant is dragged screaming from the hospital.
That is only the beginning of Lina’s journey. She finds emotional solace and a possible form of communication with her Father – separated from them in a men’s work camp – in her artwork. Lina is a blessed artist, and she works in whatever mediums he can find, sometimes tracing in the dirt of the traincar floors or hasty sketches on a handkerchief to be passed from one hand to the next.
Not even the frozen Siberian tundra can take away Lina’s determination, as her mother and brother both fall ill, she continues to dig beets, make holes that may be her own grave, and wrestle with others for the food to stay alive.
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is deftly delivered, with enough detail to be harrowing yet never gratuitous. The reader feels the passage of years along with Lina, as she grows up in a work camp. But everyday survived feels like a small victory.