This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel by Andrew Donkin
Published by Philomel Books on Oct. 12, 2021
Genres: Juvenile Fiction / Historical / General
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In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother, and brother are pulled from their Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp while she fights for her life, vowing to honor her family and the thousands like hers by burying her story in a jar on Lithuanian soil. Based on the author's family, includes a historical note.
I recently got hooked on the writing of Ruta Sepetys after reading her most recent book, I Must Betray You, which was published Feb. 1, 2022. Her brand of story is telling the stories that are rarely told. Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel which is adapted by Andrew Donkin with art by Dave Kopka and color by Brann Livesay, is one of those stories. I have a healthy respect for this type of storytelling and history sharing because I have had to struggle to discover my own people history and stories.
A Moment for Those Who Read Differently
To give you some insight to my reading mind…I’m the kind of reader who will read the second book in a series first and I will read the graphic novel before I read the original. Mostly because if I have to choose between a graphic novel and regular prose, my choice will be made before you finish your sentence. (Yes, I’m a comic book fan too!) You gotta do what works for you. Don’t let anyone try to put you in a corner! Life happens the way it does and I happen to read more books because of it. So yes, I read the graphic novel first and yes, I plan to read the original.
Stories That Aren’t Often Told
I’m going to be honest. I know a lot about the concentration camps set up by the nazis in World War II, but outside of the Jewish Resistance, my knowledge is limited on the experiences of other groups in the war. I had no idea what was going on on the Soviet/Russian side of the conflict.
Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel is a story about the arrest and deportation of Lina, her mother and little brother in 1941 Lithuania. Because I didn’t read a synopsis ahead of time and I jumped right into reading it based on my last experience with Ruta Sepetys’ storytelling, I had to put some things together as I read. Almost similar to how Lina had to during her horrific experience.
The Terror of Not Knowing
There is no omniscient narrator, the reader knows what Lina knows because it is written from her point of view. At first I didn’t really understand where they were being taken or the framing of them being kicked out of their homes and put on trains to a destination that they have no idea about. The imagery is eerily similar to how Jewish people were taken from their homes and put on trains to the death camps.
Much of the emotional terror from this story is the not-knowing. Lina and her family never know what will come next or where they will be taken next. They don’t know where her father is or how he is doing. They don’t know about the rest of their family. They don’t know when the next moment might be their last.
Hope and Community
This is a super tough book to read. But it is not devoid of hope, even though sometimes it feels buried in the hardship of what is happening to Lina at the Soviet workcamps. There is hope in the budding romance between Lina and Andrius. There is hope in her mother protecting her and her little brother.
Their community is full of hope too. Just when it seems like someone is going to be in it for themselves, they surprise you with a kind action. The only thing I really wanted to learn more about in the novel was the other characters. Lina’s mother was so interesting and resilient that I wish I could’ve learned more about her.
The illustrations were superb and the colors that are used really fit the mood of the story. Much of it blue-toned, which also matches the family’s clothes. There clothes are also contrasted against the Soviet green uniforms.
Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel is a story about survival. It isn’t pretty and it is hard to read. Because it is a graphic novel, it in fact is graphic at times and the images can be hard to look at. But if we didn’t read hard to read stories, we would miss out on a lot of history and a lot of lessons that can be learned from it. This is the type of book that I recommend you buddy read so you can decompress with each other afterwards.
HAVE A SIP OF COCOA ☕…
I came for… history that I didn’t know about.
I stayed for… the heartbreaking story of Lina and her family.
Hot Cocoa Moments: That Andrius really came thru when it counted.
Would I Read it Again:Yes, I’m curious how it will read, once I read the original novel.
Educator Recommendations: I think this graphic novel would be perfect in a history class. But I would teach it in an English class too. It might inspire a project that involves students researching a piece of little-known history and then writing a fictional story, comic or graphic novel that incorporates their research. Discussions to have: If you don’t know about it, does it mean it didn’t happen? How do you write historical accounts when the people who experienced it are to traumatized to talk about it?