Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Between Shades of Gray

Sepetys, Ruta. 2011. BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. New York: Philomel Books.

Some of the last century's most harrowing stories didn't come to the surface to be told until much, much later. One case of this was the deportation and imprisonment of thousands of citizens from the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

These three small nations were swallowed up by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union in 1940, and then occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941. 

In June of 1941, over 130,000 were deported from Lithuania and sent to work camps in other parts of the Soviet Union. This is where Between Shades of Gray begins. Lina and her family are awakened in the middle of the night and told they have just a few minutes to gather their belongings. Lina and her mother and younger brother stay together, but they are separated from their father. Then they are herded on to trains in crowded, cramped conditions and eventually stop at a work camp. At the work camp they are forced to perform hard labor with little to no food. They live in a shack and are forced to pay rent to the lady who was already living there. 

They are transferred again to a work camp near the Arctic circle where they are forced to build their own huts to live in. Many do not survive in the harsh Arctic night, when the sun doesn't shine for months at a time.

The 'shades of gray' referenced in the title describe the actions of some of the characters in the novel. Some of the characters that we perceive to be horrible people do kind things, and some people that are close do things that are not so charitable.

I appreciated greatly reading about this piece of history I knew little about. Amazingly, some Lithuanians survived for over a decade as prisoners of the Soviet Union, only to return home to find other people had taken their homes and possessions. However, I felt the book was lacking a certain emotional quality. The narrator almost seemed detached as she described the horrifying things that happened to her and that she witnessed. Lina's mother was a bright spot in this book, a woman who was determined to keep her family together.

I recommend this book, even though it will rip your heart out over and over again.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Riverman

Starmer, Aaron. 2014. THE RIVERMAN. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

This Thanksgiving vacation my husband, daughter and I moved in to our new home. After all of the work that moving houses entails, I was often too tired at night to do much reading, and during the day there were always tasks that needed to be done. Hopefully this week I can get back into my reading habit!

The last book I finished before the Thanksgiving vacation was The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. This book had been mentioned in several articles I read, and also a young adult lit twitter chat that I participated in. So, following the buzz, I picked this book up and started to read.

The Riverman is about a boy named Alistair and a girl named Fiona. Alistair is sort of a loner, and only hangs around with his friend Charlie. Fiona lives in the same neighborhood, and she and Charlie used to play when they were young, but have since lost touch.

Fiona shows up at Alistair's house one day and asks him if she would write her biography. This seems like a strange request for a 12 year old, but Fiona claims that she is already 13. It seems that she has been visiting a magical world called Aquavania, but that in her magical land, there is a creature called the Riverman that is stealing the souls of children. She wants Alistair to record her story before the Riverman gets her.

The book tries to be suspenseful and dark, but I just thought it was weird. There was a lot of build up about this magical world, but I thought it fell flat. I didn't really care about the characters, either. They weren't endearing or even likeable. The structure of the story, switching back and forth between the real world and Fiona's retelling of her magical world, became cumbersome and confusing.

I didn't enjoy this book, but that doesn't mean that you won't love it. I know there is someone out there who would love this book, but it just wasn't me! 

Keep on readin',
Mrs. Cox
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