Friday, January 13, 2012

Morris Finalists 2012: Between Shades of Gray

Yes, I did read this over my holiday break! But then, well, life got in the way and I never reviewed it. And it had to go back to the library!

But I can tell you that it was well worth reading. Between Shades of Gray is the story (not based on any one true story) of 15-year-old Lina, whose family is taken by pre-KGB Soviet secret police from their home in Lithuania and sent to Siberia. Horrible things happen. The ending is not particularly happy.

This is good storytelling. Author Ruta Sepetys does a good job unfolding the events in a not-totally-predictable manner. I also liked a theme that ran through much of the book: kindness matters. Lina's mother is in the habit of being kind to people, even when they are not kind to her, and it does matter in the end, even though Lina thinks it silly.

However, I did notice that despite the really horrible things that happen in this book, emotionally, it didn't pull me in as deeply as other books have (for instance, The Birchbark House). I couldn't pinpoint exactly why; perhaps just because this story is told fairly starkly.

Between Shades of Gray takes place during World War II (it begins in 1939), but tells a different, little-known part of the war story. It would make a good companion to World War II studies in the classroom. And if you've read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, this would make a great comparison read.


Wendy said...

What do you think of it as a Newbery contender?

Kathleen McDade said...

It's distinguished, has excellent storytelling and compelling subject matter (not technically a criterion, I know). Is it for children under 14? That could go either way. Would I pick it? I don't know.

Wendy said...

Oh, I certainly think it's for children under fourteen (and older too, of course).

Kathleen McDade said...

I think it's appropriate for children under 14, and would appeal to some, but maybe not widely. Laurie?

Wendy said...

Oh, "widely" isn't really an issue, though. In an exercise over at Heavy Medal where we were discussing what we might have picked as this year's Newbery if we were eleven, based on our biases and preferences as we remember them from that age, I chose this book as my eleven-year-old pick. A teacher commented that her class (fifth or sixth grade, I think) seemed to consider it the most important book of their time.

I think there are some various literary qualities that keep this book from being a best-of-the-best book, but I'd be happy to see it up there all the same.