The Dragon Whistler

The Dragon Whistler
Now available in paperback.


Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

DO NOT confuse this book with another rather popular book FOR ADULTS with the word "grey" (spelled with an "e") in the title. THIS IS NOT THAT BOOK.

Okay, now that we've got that cleared up.

Debut author Ruta Sepetys says she's kind of glad there's been some confusion about her book for young adults and that ... other one. Not that she really needed the extra attention. Her book shines all on its own. But given the subject, I can understand why she'd want to open the eyes of every reader possible.

I often say I correlate my love for a book with the number of tears shed while reading it. But in this case, "love" is perhaps the wrong word for how I feel about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. Because how can you feel such a positive, powerful word for a story that forces you to take a long, dark look into the horrible things human beings can do to each other?

You can respect, admire and feel utterly compelled to tell everyone who will listen that it is essential to read this book so that THEY WILL UNDERSTAND and never forget — especially kids who have never known real suffering, so they can appreciate the freedoms and blessings they have by immersing themselves into what other kids survived. You can explain that this is a book that inspires such strong emotions that it might leave you sobbing at a stoplight so blinded by tears that you're afraid to drive across an intersection. After all, this is not necessarily a book you LOVE. But it's a book that, in the end, you are changed by.

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY (2011, Philomel Books/Penguin Audio) can be compared with THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, THE BOOK THIEF and CODE NAME VERITY in that it takes place in Europe during WWII. However, this is a part of the war that not as many people are familiar with. While Hitler's atrocities are well known, not as many people realize Joseph Stalin himself murdered millions (some say as many at 60 million) during his reign of terror.

Before the Russians invaded Lithuania, 15-year-old Lina was living an idyllic life as a professor's daughter. She loved to draw and paint. Her cousin was her best friend. She adored her little brother. Then, one night, the Soviet secret police arrest her family, taking her father away to prison and deporting Lina, her brother and mother to Siberia.

What happens to her family and to the other prisoners is extraordinarily difficult to take in. It's brutal. It's vile. It's evil and shocking. But Sepetys does an amazing job of pulling you back from the edge just when you think you can't take it anymore. And these scenes of kindness, love and  laughter in the midst of horror are the ones that made me weep, my heart aching for those tender souls who refused to break.

This book is not for kids who are easily upset, because there are some extremely disturbing scenes of humiliation and brutality. That said, those things must be balanced with the impact of such a story. Like those books mentioned above, this is one that needs to be shared and discussed as a family.

For me, in these raw, initial post-read moments, my love/tears correlation waffles. However, when it comes to awe, respect and overall emotional impact, this may easily end up being one of my absolute favorites.

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