I absolutely love reading historical fiction. I love it when an author can take me back in time, to a place I will never be able to visit outside of a book. I especially love it when the author teaches me something while telling me a story. I enjoy books from every time period and I’ve read many good books about World War II. I feel as though this was a deeply depressing time period for many people from all over the world but there is much that can be learned from it. Authors are able to retell the stories of times past through historical fiction. They are able to draw readers into a horrendous moment in history by giving them a character to empathize with.
Ruta Supetys does this in Between Shades of Gray. She puts the reader into the world of fifteen-year-old Lina, the daughter of a provost at a Lithuanian university. The Soviet police have taken her and her family away in the night for no reason that they could tell. Lina, her brother, Jonas, and her mother have been separated from Lina’s father. They are put on a train for weeks and finally end up in Siberia. They are put through much heartache, sickness, and pain. However, there are a few rays of light that shine through. Lina develops a friendship with Andrius, a boy about her age who has also lost his father. There is a Soviet guard who shows kindness when he can. And Lina finds joy in her drawing.
Lina’s story brings to light a part of World War II that is not commonly seen in teen literature. Most fiction set during this time take place in the concentration camps that Hitler created. While it is important to learn about these camps and what people lived through there, it is just as important to know what went on in the rest of the world during this time. It’s important for our future to realize that the horrible dictators of the past weren’t just preoccupied with their victims’ nationalities, they were also afraid of their intellects. Supetys states in her Author’s Note, “Doctors, lawyers, teachers, military servicemen, writers, business owners, musicians, artists, and even librarians were all considered anti-Soviet and were added to the growing list slated for wholesale genocide.” Stalin needed to wipe out any individual who might speak out against him. He killed millions of people but there isn’t near the same amount of awareness of his atrocities as there is about Hitler.
It’s important to have books like Between Shades of Gray to bring history to life for the teens of today. They need to be aware of the sordid past in order to help make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Teens also learn about kindness, empathy, and love through books like this. They get to see that no matter how bleak life might seem, there is always hope.
To find out more about the book and to see an interview with the author click here.
Learn more about Stalin’s occupation of the Baltic States by clicking here.
Learn about the Soviet deportations from Lithuania by clicking here.