courtcat: (Quieter)
([personal profile] courtcat Dec. 30th, 2010 09:56 pm)
Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Release Date: March 2011
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers Group)
Genre: YA historical fiction

In mid-June of 1941 (June 14th, to be exact) wholesale deportation of skilled and educated people of the Baltic states began; I've known this for ages, but not known much about it other than that because of course the focus of most (American) education on the subject of WWII is the German and American fronts (in the way that America had a 'front', eg. Pearl Harbor), with side trips into the various Russian occupations.  It saddens me to admit that, as the history obsessed person I am, I didn't look more into this until I was presented to this book.

As always, for me, it begins with the aesthetic; the book is marbled and matte but for the shoot of some plant (perhaps potato, given events in the story) pushing up through snow crusted ground.  It feels like leather or silk (or some delicious hybrid) to hold, and I can only hope this holds true in the retail release.  There are some errors in the construction that I can only assume will be fixed in the finished product (bits of section two inserted into section three, for instance).  But this, of course, is not as important as the content.  It's just a thing that made me pick to read it before the other ARC that came at the same time.

The main character's name is Lina, and she's part of an upper middle class Lithuanian family (if such things existed in Lithuania at the time - it's what it equated to in my head, anyway) - two parents and a brother, cousins and an aunt and uncle.  Her father was a university professor and her mother a well educated housewife, and they were, of course, fairly radical and met with people of similar mind to discuss politics and the like.  At some point, not really as part of the story, the cousin and aunt and uncle escape to repatriate in Germany, while Lina and her family remain to be a part of the mass deportation of June 1941.  It's not at all an unfamiliar story in most ways; it's been told about Danes and German Jews and various people going through France with a great many different details.  What marks this out is Lina's voice, which is that of a strong willed, independent girl who wants to be an artist with every bone in her body and every breath she takes.

This is something different from most female protagonists in most fiction about the time; most people write them as uncertain, confused and weak.  While Lina certainly has her moments of all of that, she finds strength she didn't know she had and perseveres when countless around her are dying, being killed, or being used to various ends.  The tone fits wonderfully with both the story and what the author is trying to get across - that hope and love, in the end, will win against even the most dire of situations.

The one thing that irks just a bit is the end - it seems abrupt, almost hurried, as if the author came up against deadline or hit the proscribed number of pages (or words) and quit while the quitting is good.  It was a small thing, though, and didn't detract much from the enjoyment of the story, or the fascination of learning a bit about a section of history I didn't know much about before.  And yes, it has inspired me to research . . . so thanks are owed to Ms. Sepetys.

(Cross posted all over the place.)
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