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The Beauty of Coming Out of the Ashes: A Review of “Between Shades of Grey”

by MARIANA DUQUEContributor

I recently stumbled upon a genre that I never thought I would be very invested in: historical fiction. Not every historical fiction book ranging from Victorian England to the Samurai stories, but specifically World War II.

Spoiler alert: The books are kind of sad, well, it was a war nonetheless, but also full of adventures and drama and packed with mysteries. These World War II historical fiction books find a story within the ashes of the atrocities made in real life. Such a book is “Between Shades of Grey” by Lithuanian-American author Ruta Sepetys.

When I picked up this book (which was recommended to me by a friend), I thought it was going to be a good book, as is all historical fiction taking place in the middle of WWII. But as I turned the first page, I was completely in the edge of my seat and I started to devour the adventure.

The story itself revolves around a sixteen-year old called Lina and her family living in Lithuania during the Stalinist regime in 1941. She is a typical girl and a gifted artist and draws almost everything she sees. She has a mother and a father, along with a little brother. However, one night everything changes.

Lina is captured by the NKVD and torn apart from her father. Lina, her brother and mother are sent to Siberia to a life sentence of forced labor not knowing where her father is and in what conditions. Through her drawings, Lina wishes to send clues to her father with hopes of reuniting her family.

Sepetys describes haunting scenes from start to finish. One of such scenes is the opening of the novel. The author sets the anticipation by describing a terrifying knock on the door and officers standing in the other end, claiming for them. She describes the rush of Elena (Lina’s mother), the fear of the unknown that they are facing and the eventual horror that was coming their way, as Lina and Jona (her brother) packed their bags. It catapults a novel full of panic, rush, action and suspense that are sure to keep anyone engaged as I currently am with this book.

Sepetys’ intentions with this novel was to make people aware of this phase of the war that is often overlooked by the one in Germany with the Nazi party. It is a story of strength, survival and in its core, it is a story about humanity. She takes the story of her own family’s past and manages to set evolving characters, complex situations and hauntingly beautiful moments in the midst of a tragic backstory. She is literally bringing the beauty out of the ashes.

For all the historical fiction or YA lovers this is surely a book to read and it surely will strike your emotions.

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The Quadrangle, founded in 1924, is the student-run newspaper of Manhattan College.
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