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.
Lina's mother holds the family, and the group, together in that she shows compassion for everyone, even the young guards that mistreat them. She has hope that decency will prevail and that this horror has to end. But as the horrors continue, she continually acts selflessly and with more thought for others than herself. She is a powerful character who seen through the eyes of her daughter, is as a mother just is.
The power of this story is not fully realised as the characters are relatively superficially described. Events are described in a single sentence, and the emotions felt are those of the reader, rather than being so immersed in a character that you feel their feelings. This is perhaps the case in most YA novels, and why they are so easy to read. Also why I always feel I miss out a little.
While history classes in America cover the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, we rarely hear about similar mass deportations and concentration/labor camps elsewhere in the world. Having taken a couple of Russian history classes in college, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with this unfortunate period in Baltic history, but I had no idea about the scale of the deportations and imprisonments of the Baltic people until I read this book. It’s an important story to tell, and I’m glad the author felt the need to tell it after visiting some of her relatives in Lithuania and hearing tales of what happened.
The book ends on a note of hope, and then flash-forwards a few decades and fills in a few details. I wish some of those details had been fleshed out a bit more rather than just stated in the epilogue, but I see why the story ended where/when it did. I really liked the book, but it’s not an easy read. Lina’s situation is horrific and that comes through loud and clear on every page. People interested in historical fiction, particularly during times of great struggle, will want to read this book. Those wishing to learn a bit more about an often-overlooked period in history may also wish to read it.
The author was inspired to write the story because of her father's family history (his parents were able to escape through Germany, but other relatives weren't so lucky), and a lot of research went into it, it looks like. There's a long list in the back of people and institutions that helped, including a few nonfiction books that I'm probably going to look into to learn more about this bit of history.
It's a very compelling story - once I started reading it, I found myself wanting to get to the end to find out whether or not Lina and her family make it out, but I also was curious about how bad could it get (very, horrifyingly bad), and I wanted to learn more about this thing that I only vaguely knew of, mostly thanks to the children's book The Endless Steppe and also to a friend who lived in the Ukraine during her high school years and from whom I've learned most of what I know about the region.
But it's also a very bleak story, because of the topic. I am very grateful for the epilogue that reassures the reader that the lives of Lina and her loved ones improves somewhat. I won't spoil it, but not everyone manages to live to the end, so having an epilogue with a little bit of "look, these people made it out!" was very relieving.
I think that technically, it's a YA book, but I feel if it's YA because the main character is 16 and because she just barely escapes a more horrifying fate than she receives, then I'm all for it being YA. I was on tenterhooks the entire time, expecting really atrocious things to happen to Lina (because of the setting and what I know of the NKVD), so it was a relief that it never got quite that bad (though what did happen in the book was awful enough, and also probably very true to history).
We see events through Lina's eyes-one moment she is safe at home with her family, and the next she is rounded up with others and sent off on a journey that will change her life forever. Not knowing where they are going, when or if they will ever return, and a suitcase filled with their meager belongings, they unwillingly follow their captors directions. When they are first led to a train station I imagined they were definitely being sent to a concentration camp with death impending soon. This wasn't the case as Stalin planned for the majority of his prisoners to serve work detail under inhumane conditions.
The train journey is only the beginning of their torture as they are given barely any food to eat and conditions are hardly liveable for livestock, let alone people. As more people are crammed into the train cars along the way, they must learn to live together in the closed quarters, allowing them to create friendships and relationships that will help them in the months to come.
The first destination for Lina and her family is a work camp, where slave labor is put into full force. Much of this novel reminds me of the Holocaust, and treatment of the prisoners falls into this category. Everyone is worked until they have no strength left and daily food rations are minimal. Everyone learns to do what they need to do in order to get by, and many use the relationships that were developed on the train to assist them in their daily living.
We learn throughout the novel from Lina's flashbacks that the reason for their imprisonment is political. Anyone who had a different motive or ideal from Stalin was captured and either sent to a prison or a work camp. It was interesting to see this revelation through Lina's young eyes since she did not truly understand the motives.
This was a wonderful story even though it was difficult to read at times. It read very quickly and smoothly for me as it only took me a few days to complete it. With themes of family, love, war, and morals, there is so much more to this story than I described above. I don't hesitate in recommending this novel for either personal leisure or as a book club discussion.
Rating: 5/5 stars
I am not ashamed to say I often purchase a book based solely on its cover or title and this read was once such purchase. Little did I know that between the pretty covers is a strong, emotional, and compelling story that is a fictionalized account of historical events and is based on survivor testimony. In Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys draws the reader into the cold and cruel world of World War II and the Lithuanian (Estonian and Latvian too) deportees whose story is often completely overshadowed by that of the Jews.
The night Lina, her mother and younger brother are taken from their home by Russian soldiers - on Stalin’s orders - is a night the young girl will never forget. Sadly, despite how awful this night is, it is the last night for many, many long years that Lina will know a sense of safety and security. Lina and her family are only three of many who are being rounded up and loaded into cattle cars where they are soon to discover they are being deported to Siberia. Their crime is much the same as the Jews, they existed. The initial ride is long and brutal with people being packed into the cattle cars like sardines. Within a few short weeks hunger is rampant, the stench from both human waste and the dead is unbearable, and most among the living are covered head to toe with lice. All the more horrifying is the treatment given to the deportees by the soldiers, men who clearly hate those they do not know and care not for anyone’s comfort but their own. While you would never expect there to be any moments of happiness or kindness during such horrific times, there are in fact a few. Lina’s mother is kind and generous and often encourages both her children and the others gathered with them to act similarly. She encourages all to come together and help one another as best they can. And, she leads by example, sharing the limited food they are given with those who need it most, sharing her warmth (literally and emotionally) with all who will accept it, and often putting herself in harm’s way in order to protect another. While Lina is often frustrated by her mother’s behavior and tells her they must fight back Lina ultimately learns her mother’s kindness and generosity are the means by which she fights back.
No matter the circumstances, their location, or their treatment, Lina never gives up hope that she and her family will survive this horrific ordeal and be reunited with her father. To that extent, anytime they are allowed (read bargain, barter, or bribe) to send a letter, Lina leaves clues as to their whereabouts for her father hidden in her artwork. This is a treacherous and risky course for Lina to take but one she feels is worth the risk. Thankfully Lina is stubborn and single-minded in this pursuit because after a time she and many of the other deportees are once again loaded into cattle cars and then a barge where they are dumped in the middle of Siberia just a few short months before the raging winter arrives.
As if the story, up to this point weren’t bad enough, the time in Siberia is unbelievable. By this time most of the deportees are nothing more than skin and bones, they are malnourished, and most harbor some illness that is just looking for the smallest of opportunities to become worse and claim yet another life. They are weak yet still expected to build large-scale buildings for the soldiers’ comfort and their own shelters with whatever materials they can scavenge and/or steal. Inexplicably, Lina and her group, which still includes her mother and her younger brother, are able to construct a small enclosure that provides only the barest of protection against the harsh Siberian environment. For most, Siberia is the final stop on their life journey.
The Bottom Line: Between Shades of Gray took me completely by surprise with its power and message and though it is a very hard story to read in terms of its subject matter it is also very hard to put down. Without doubt, Between Shades of Gray is driven by its characters and though Lina and her family are fictional characters, they, and all the characters, are based on the accounts of survivors collected by Ruta Sepetys during her research for this novel.
As Sepetys clearly notes the Lithuanians, Estonians, and Latvians were geographically stuck between two enormous evils - Russia and Germany - and both evils wanted them all gone. Like so many others from this tragic period in human history, the names of all those who suffered and died are not known and Sepetys has remained true to this by giving a few of characters descriptions rather than names. The bald man and the man who wound his watch for example; though these characters are not named, they are just as real as Lina and her family.
Then, there are the soldiers, a mindless, faceless group whose deplorable treatment of other human beings brought out a special kind of hatred in me. Whether intentional or not, Sepetys creates characters who are heroic even in their darkest moments as well as characters we can all hope have found their very special place in Hell.
On a more positive note, Sepetys also made sure to include the moments of kindness, love and hope, all of which existed alongside and in spite of the pure evil. Lina finds love that will last her a lifetime, some who never should have survived do because of the care and compassion of others, and those who did not survive met their deaths with honor. It is among these moments that I was reminded of the triumph of the human spirit and the power of the positive to counteract the negative.
Should you choose to pick up Between Shades of Gray, and I highly recommend that you do, I would also suggest reading the author’s note and interview which follow the conclusion of the book. There is a wealth of information to be found there including the primary reason so many of us never knew the story of the Lithuanian, Estonian, and Latvian survivors of WWII.
This book has the most beautiful writing I have ever read so far. It’s beautiful, yet at the same time, it’s sad and the sense of loneliness, isolation, and helplessness is felt all throughout the book. It certainly does feel as if Lina and all the rest of the prisoners have indeed been forgotten by the world - considering they’re placed in a camp in literally what looks to be in the middle of nowhere. What’s ironic is they’re labeled as thieves and prostitutes, and some of the prisoners have actually become that way as a means of survival. Lina and her mother are major beacons of hope throughout the story and it’s through their unbelievable strength that they attempt to survive through this ordeal.
What I also liked about the book is the several flashbacks Lina has, to contrast between how she lived before she gets taken and arrested. They almost seem trivial compared to what she goes through in the camp. When Lina finds love in the camp, it’s what propels her to survive through this moment in her life. I thought Lina’s relationship with Andrius was the main reason why she kept hanging on. Although she had plenty of courage to show, she needed something else to cling on so she won’t lose hope.
It’s a bleak story, and gets worse later as the book progresses. The writing in this novel is excellent and makes the reader feel what Lina feels, the detail in the setting and atmosphere is well done and also adds to the feeling of the book. It’s not until literally, the last few pages of the book where Lina’s outcome is revealed, and leaves the reader with the feeling of hope, however with a melancholy feeling to it as well.
One of the best books I’ve read so far this year, I greatly recommend reading this. The writing is beautiful, and the story although tragic, focuses on Lina’s strength to survive and shows how courageous and hopeful one can be while enduring awful horrible events such as the one Lina went through herself.It’s definitely not a subject for everyone to read, however it’s not one to forget either.
I've read about Russian Gulags and about political prisoners sent to Siberia to suffer, work, and die. I did not know about the Lithuanian teachers, librarians, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and military who were sent with their families thousands and thousands of miles into Russia to die horrific deaths. Even as America was allied with Russia against the Axis powers, Stalin was torturing and killing millions--some estimates say that he killed 20 million people. Insanity.
This book tells the story of one such Lithuanian family who is deported into Russia, along with thousands of others from their town. Stuffed into cattle cars, deprived of food and water, many died along the way. Their destination--A forced labor camp, where those who hope to survive are forced to sign papers admitting that they are criminals and accepting a 25 year prison sentence.
In the mist of this chaos and suffering are sixteen year-old Lina and what's left of her family. Her father has been separated from his wife and two children, but Lina and her mother and brother have hope that he is still alive. Lina is a talented artist and writer who documents all that she sees in the forced labor camp, including the abuses from the Russian guards and the small joys of life.
Because, amongst all of the heartache and trauma, there are little moments of happiness. Lina meet a handsome young man named Andrius who helps her to secure extra rations for her family. Friendships are formed, holidays and birthdays are celebrated, life is lived. It is so very moving to read this story and find that the will to survive triumphed in enough people so that stories like this one made it back into the world. We all have a lot to learn and admire from people like these.
This piece of historical fiction has my interest piqued. I am going to search out more information on this topic and will hopefully come across more stories like it. This is going to be a great addition to my collection of human rights YA lit and WWII YA lit in my classroom. It's readable and thought-provoking and it sheds light on an area of history that I have not read much about. A must-have for any high school classroom and classroom library.
In this hard-hitting YA tale, Lina, a fifteen year old Lithuanian girl, is rounded up one night, along with her family. They are not Jewish but her father may have had ties with a “questionable” character, that had been included on one of Stalin’s many “hit lists”. The family is loaded on a train, crammed with other unfortunates and Lina finds herself heading to a labor camp in Siberia.
The author sugar-coats nothing here. She paints a bleak, desperate picture of a family scrabbling to survive. It is well-written, nicely paced and completely heart-rending. Highly recommended.
Everything about Ruta Sepetys's YA debut was heartwrenching and, at the same time, beautiful. There were times when I would smile, but tears would threaten to spill at the same moment.
Throughout the story, I kept thinking back to Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. But Between Shades of Gray stands out. The story of Anne Frank and all the hundreds of thousands of Jews prosecuted during the Nazi regime is well-known throughout history.
The people from the small countries of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and other countries suffered almost the same way. Sure, they weren't gassed and thrown in concentration camps for the whole world to know. But that's what made it so horrible. The whole world didn't know.
I don't usually re-read books, but so many things happened in Between Shades of Gray that I want to relive to remind myself that the cold winters we face in our warm houses are nothing, compared to what Lina and her people faced. To remind myself that when there isn't enough salt in my lunch, I shouldn't complain.
I recommend Between Shades of Gray to anyone who has read Anne Frank's diary and felt something for her. And if you haven't read her diary, you should still pick this book up.
The efforts Ruta Sepetys put in for researching and compiling such a powerful historical fiction debut have not gone in vain. Pick up a copy of Between Shades of Gray when it debuts in March and relive the events of Stalin's Reign of Terror through a whole new perspective - the eyes of fifteen year old Lina Vilkas.
To me, the cover suggests the heart-wrenching sorrow to follow. It's beautiful, sad, and suggests hope at the same time!
I could go on and on about how the Vilkas and their group suffer. I could draw many parallels between their experience and those of Holocaust survivors. I could talk about how, at times, the weight of what they go through is crushing, but I don't want to. I want to talk about the points of light in this book that made the rest of it bearable (and when I say bearable, I mean in terms of the subject matter. The whole book is beautifully and compellingly written). Lina's memories of her father and of her cousin Joanna certainly help her through her trials, as does her art which she continues, and uses to her advantage in many ways, throughout the book. A sweet, little romance doesn't hurt either. But what really makes the work camps tolerable is what the deportees do for each other.
Between Shades of Gray is an important book about a not-often-talked about event in history. For this reason, it will appeal to historical fiction lovers, and WWII aficionados. It's also an emotional read, with dashes of suspense and romance mixed into Lina's experience of oppression and, ultimately, loss. I highly recommend this powerful debut and look forward to whatever Sepetys has in store for us next!
Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
After reading this book, I'm a little embarrassed to admit my ignorance on this subject. I'm not sure if it was due to me not paying attention in history class or me never being taught about it. Obviously, I knew about Stalin and knew that bad things happened during his regime. But I knew nothing about people from Lithuania, Finland, Latvia and other places being deported and sent to camps in Siberia on his command. I had no idea that those people were enslaved in labor camps for as long as fifteen years. I had no idea that those countries lost nearly one third of their population during this genocide. I had no idea that Stalin is believed to be responsible for the deaths of more than twenty MILLION people! How can these things be kept secret? How can I be so ignorant?
Between Shades of Gray tells the fictional story of Lina, a fifteen year old Lithuanian girl. One night, the Soviets invade her home and throw her family into a crowded train car. After a long journey, they are forced into slave labor at camps throughout Siberia. For twelve years, Lina remains a slave in the hands of the Soviets, living in miserable, horrific conditions and suffering innumerable hardships. Despite the darkness and death all around her, Lina finds a way to survive through her writings and drawings, which give her hope and a reason to continue living.
One of the big reasons that I enjoyed this novel was the way that it opened my eyes to a part of history that I did not know. It was also well written with characters that I cared about. The writing is not fancy and fairly straightforward, and it seems appropriate for its young adult audience. I really enjoyed getting to know Lina, as well as her mother, brother, friend Andrius and others in her camp. I even came to care for the grumpy bald man who was obnoxiously causing trouble through most of the book.
The ending was abrupt, which frustrated me at first. I wanted to know exactly what happened to everyone, and not all of those details were provided. However, after more thinking, I decided that this is not the type of book where every loose end needs to be tied. I think a fairy tale type ending like that would distract from the point of the book, which is to bring light to a horrible, horrible, horrible genocide that happened to millions of real people. And the truth is that it didn't end well for most of those people.
This book made me feel sad. It made me feel guilty and angry. But it also made me feel hopeful. There is something inspiring about these people who had the will to live and survive even in the worst possible conditions. I'm not sure that I would be able to do the same. I especially admired Lina's mother for her determination to make the best of everything for her children's sake. As a parent, I couldn't help but imagine what I would do in the same circumstances. It was terrifying for me to read this book under that lens!!
To summarize this long review, I would say: Read this book. It's important and worth your time.
As you follow Lina and her family and fellow deportees on their winding journey from prison camp to prison camp spanning an exhausting expanse of the Soviet Union, you grow closer and closer to the main characters, inspired by their hope, love, and rooting for their survival. The language is fluid and lyrical, the characters are well drawn with a very nice usage of flashbacks to sketch out more of their history and lives.
The only thing that keeps this from being a five star book, in my opinion, is a less than satisfying ending. I felt like it was a bit abrupt and left some questions unanswered, but perhaps that is intentional.
This knowledge makes the reading of this story all the more chilling and utterly compelling.
It is an incredible read as we follow the epic journey of Lina, 16yrs, her younger brother Jonas and their strong and courageous mother, as they are forced to leave a comfortable lifestyle in a warm, up-market apartment in Lithuanian. How can anyone wisely choose the right set of belongings to pack, when in the middle of the night an intimidating group of Stalin thugs gives them only twenty minutes to decide? Such quick and imperative choices have lasting effects on their absolute survival as the family are pushed into a long captivity. An unimaginable imprisonment, dragging them into some of harshest environments in Europe at that time.
It is little wonder that Ruta wishes to finally give so many of these victims a voice, in Lina, and it is incredible that it has taken so long for the world to be presented with such an accessible, readable and straightforward account of what Stalin put the Lithuanians through. It's readability succeeds as Ruta has very successfully combined a simplistic and factual writing style to describe such horrific events.
There are bright spots in this tale woven through Lina's eyes, as her love of drawing and writing provides her with an important creative outlet, which builds a convincing documentation of her tale.
Although ultimately this is not a feel good book, it is a truly riveting read. So much comes into play. How much can a human survive whilst struggling in the freezing Siberian climate and how important is the role of luck, in terms of your health holding up at the right time in the wrong place?
The book is set 1941 (and beyond) and is about a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl who's family is deported by Stalin's regime when the USSR annexes Lithuania. Lina's father is imprisoned (the family gets snippets of news about him) and Lina, her mother and her younger brother are forced from their home, crammed into a train car with dozens of other prisoners and taken to a "work camp" where they are forced to live in subhuman conditions and do hard labor in beet fields. They are barely given shelter and are forced to live off of 300 grams of bread a day. A piece small enough that Lina says she can nearly close her hand around it. If a prisoner is too sick to work, they get nothing. The family is eventually moved to a "camp" within the Arctic Circle and given even fewer provisions.
This sounds a little like Hitler's Nazi regime and their treatment of European Jews, right? Except wasn't Stalin a U.S. ally during WWII. One of the "Big Three"? Didn't we *fight* this kind of brutality? Apparently not all of it. In the Author's Note at the end of the book we learn that Stalin killed more than 20 million people during his reign, and that those Lithuanians (and Latvians, Estonians and Finns) who survived their deportations spent 10-15 *years* in Siberia. When they eventually returned, they found their homes and even sometimes their identities occupied by Russians. They were treated like criminals, kept under surveillance and threatened with immediate deportation (again) if they spoke of what they had endured.
There are a couple of things about the book that kept it from being five stars for me. One was the flashbacks to Lina's past. I felt that they added a lot to the story, but might have preferred that they were written more as Lina remembering the past rather than actually flashing back to it. I felt that the abrupt switch in time took me out of the story just a bit. The flashbacks were, however, clearly delineated, so others may not find them disruptive. I also found myself wishing that the story had ended less abruptly. Considering the amount of time Lina spends as a deportee (something we know from foreshadowing near the beginning), I understand Sepetys choosing not chronicle the whole experience in the interest of length and focus. Still, I felt that Lina's story ended rather abruptly. Nonetheless, the epilogue wraps things up very well.
Overall, this is a very good book and a story that I, for one, had never heard before. It's well written and should appeal to teens. It even has just a bit of romance that is realistic enough that it adds to the story and does't feel at all artificial or forced. I definitely plan to recommend it to teens in my library and offer my ARC to my teen book group.
The novel is told through the eyes of Lina Vilkas, an incredible young women, who's inner strength is matched only by her bravery and willingness to live. She's fearlessly determined, often putting her own life in danger to help her family and thinks little of the consequence that her actions might cost herself or others. She also uses her talent as an artist to her advantage, helping to remember map layouts and drawing secret messages she hopes will reach her father. I felt for Lina throughout this entire novel, the situations she is faced with are utterly heartbreaking, yet somehow through everything Lina never falters, never losing her incredible spirit or courage.
Two supporting characters really help deepen the story, as their personalities are very different from Lina's and allow an entirely different outlook on the situation in the camp. While Lina tends to only see things as black and white, with people being either good or evil, her mother Elena, definitely does not. She isn't the kind of person to easily give in or give up, but instead believing that if they do what their told eventually they'll be sent home. Andrius, a young man not much older then Lina, isn't so optimistic. He stays close to his mother's side, not talking with many people and uses his sense of humor to help him through each day. He often spars with Lina, believing that she's selfish and needs to grow up, but yet risks his life to continuously bring food and supplies to the tent where she stays. I really loved both these characters, not only for their individual views but what they were able to bring out in Lina. I definitely feel that without their presents this could have been a lesser novel, but thankful that is not the case.
Although the novel's pacing is more on the slow side, it didn't really bother me since I was so wrapped up in the desperate lives of the characters. I had an absolute need to find out whether or not they would live to see another day. I am absolutely astonished with how author Ruta Sepetys was able to balance the moments of total loss & dispare with ones of great hope & love.
If I had one complaint it would be that at the very end there is a build up to something that you never really get to see, but rather are told of later. I would loved to have seen this part take place as I feel that some of its impact was therefor lost. However, its a very small flaw and not one that bothers me in my over all feelings or impressions of the book.
By choosing to focuses on the lives of those in the Baltic regions who were most effected by Stalin's reign of terror, the novel's impact feels incredibly immense, since many of these people suffered in silence for more then 50 years. Although a work of fiction, many of the events throughout the book were taken from real life accounts told to Ruta by survivors of the war. Much like Elie Wiesel's Night, the story and its main character Lina will stay with you long after you've finished the last page. A must read for fans of historical fiction, Between Shades of Gray is definitely one you shouldn't miss.
This book was lovely even in the moments it was horrifying. My heart broke for Lina and her family. But even in profound sadness there were small celebrations and hope for the future. This book took me through despair and brought me back out the other side. It ranks up there as one of the better books I've read in 2010. And while it's fiction it's based in facts that everyone should know and never forget. Ms. Sepetys did extensive research and it's obvious. Her book is beautiful and will live inside you long after you've closed it's cover. This one gets five kisses from me!
The perspective is one that students (and most adults) are not familiar with; however, the voice used by the author makes this a story that goes beyond a single time period and into your own heart. It is impossible to not feel for these characters and become invested in their survival.
While the writing is beautiful it is not hard to follow. This book would be a great choice for any student 6-12, but I would not limit it as a young adult novel. I was riveted and am sure that other adults would find it equally worthy of a long weekend spent with a book.
This is a beautifully told story, and it is very moving. It's written in short bursts, like diary entries, as Lina sits down to write her tale when she gets a moment. In these brief snapshots we see the heart and heartbreak of a girl, and of entire nations.
Highly recommended for all ages.
"Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch." pg.27
When I read that I couldn't stop the tears. To think this went on and the world had no clue it was happening was just shocking to me. Why hadn't I been taught about this in school? I would like to thank Ruta Sepetys for opening our eyes and our hearts to this story. The story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. If you read only one book this year, let it be this book. It is an emotional but an important read. This is a book that will stick with me forever.
I have read The Diary of Anne Frank several times and in fact just re-read it this year and I'm sure that is one of the most well known accounts from a victim of the Holocaust and really helped put a face on the victims. I felt like this book did the same for me about the victims of Stalin's deportations. This topic was something that I studied when I took Russian in high school and Russian History in college but I did not truly feel the horrors these people went through during Stalin's reign. It's made all the worse when you read that Sepetys based some of the events in the book from stories that actual survivors recounted to her.
The story is told from the point of view of Lina and the passages alternate between what is happening to her in the present and happier memories from her past. Through her observations we see how different people reacted to their circumstances. Some were defeated and gave up all hope where as others were determined to survive whatever the Soviets did to them. The circumstances brought out such acts of depravity and at the same time unbelievable depths of kindness from unexpected sources that you have to wonder how would you react in their positions.
If you have never read about the re-locations that Stalin ordered of the native people of countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and other countries that the Soviet Union annexed then you have to read this book. The writing was entrancing and will keep you glued to the book until the very end. It's really hard to put into words just how amazing this book is but I highly recommend it to everyone.