Between Shades of Gray is not your everyday World War II book. For example, Hitler and the Jewish people are not the main characters. Instead, this novel focuses on Joseph Stalin. Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Stalin. I thought that Hitler was the only thing going on during this war. Maybe you thought so, too. If so, this is a fantastic historical fiction novel which provides another side of the conflict. It was not only Jews who were affected during this time frame.
The story follows Lina Vilkas and her family through the hardships they face after being deported from Lithuania. After months of travel, in a crowded train car, they are brought to a place much different than Lithuania, and here they are forced to work every day, with a small piece of bread as their payment. After some time, the family is again transported. However, this time to a much harsher climate, where surviving is even more difficult. They face disease, severe weather, the deaths of close ones, and brutal treatment from almost all of the NKVD guards. Through it all, Lina keeps track of what happens in journals and drawings, in hopes that she might one day contact her father again.
This novel is very touching. I would not recommend it if you are sensitive to the somewhat graphic treatment of death in this novel. Stalin’s repressive measures against his people and the imprisonment and execution of “enemies of the Soviet people” were heavy themes throughout the book. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about this important part of history.
My favorite part of the novel was the very end. You’ll have to read it for yourself to understand, but the epilogue was a perfect conclusion to this novel.
-Leila S., 9th grade