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A Reader of Fictions: The Ice Is Getting Thinner - Death Cab for Cutie

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Ice Is Getting Thinner - Death Cab for Cutie

Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
Genre: historical fiction
Pages: 352
Publisher: Philomel
ARC Obtained From: Penguin booth at ALA 2010

Brief Summary:

Lina loves her family dearly, her mom dad and little brother, Jonas. She is also a talented artist and looks forward to a special course of study over the summer. Unfortunately, she lives in Lithuania in 1941, so her seemingly bright future will not come to pass. Instead, her family will be carted to Siberia in a cold, crowded train car to work on a collective farm. While slightly better than life (such as it is) in a Soviet prison, their forced labor still leaves individuals with a very low chance of survival.

I was a history major at Hanover College, where I took a course on the Soviet Union and wrote my I.S. on some of Solzhenitsyn's works. The World War II time period is among my favorite historical eras, so I was very excited to discover what Between Shades of Gray was about, as I had no idea when I picked it up.

This is a book that has been a long time coming. The atrocities of Nazi Germany are well known, mostly because they are so well-covered in popular culture. I have found that few people actually know much of anything about what Stalin wrought in his own country and the neighboring ones gobble up to be a part of the USSR. Sepetys' may be the first to cover this topic for a teenage audience. Hopefully more will follow.

The story certainly calls to mind the Holocaust stories that preceded it, but Sepetys does a good job of pointing out the differences between the enslavement/incarceration in Germany and in the Soviet Union. Between Shades of Gray is not an uplifting book, although it is intended to inspire its reader to consider the nature of good and evil. The epilogue, which I am of two minds about, clearly states the author's mission for the book, which is a good one, but is perhaps a bit too forceful when stated directly.

My only concern is whether Between Shades of Gray is dark enough. I read Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago in its entirety, so I have a decent understanding of the Soviet prisons. However, Lina is not in one of the prisons and I know less about the camps like she lives in. Lina's family seems overall to be spectacularly lucky. One illustration of this: Lina, in a very stupid move, draws pictures of pretty much everything that happens to her family and hides them, and not very cleverly. Somehow, though, she does not get caught. I kept expecting her to, as so many people went down for such things in the Soviet Union.

I do not intend this as a definitive criticism, solely as a question to consider, and I would be interested in hearing the opinions of others. My only real basis for comparison is Solzhenitsyn, who was writing for adults and to show the Soviet system at its worst. Whether it is a bit lighter than reality or not, Sepetys has written a wonderful and crucial book for teens.

Look for Between Shades of Gray in stores this March! This is one you shouldn't miss.

"We're not the same, dear, as we used to be.
The seasons have changed and so have we.

There was little we could say, and even less we could do

To stop the ice from getting thinner under me and you.

We bury our love in the wintry grave

A lump in the snow was all that remained.

But we stayed by its side as the days turned to weeks

And the ice kept getting thinner with every word that we'd speak.

And when spring arrived

We were taken by surprise when the floes under our feet bled into the sea

And nothing was left for you and me."

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