Heading off to the 9th IBBY Regional Conference “Peace the World Together With Children’s Books” this weekend seems like the appropriate time to talk about Ruta Sepetys BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. This came home in my glut of reading from ALA Annual. I recall setting the stacks of a couple of dozen Newbery-eligible books and galleys by my reading chair and reading the first 3 pages of each, in order to prioritize them. This is the one that I did not want to put down.
Looking back at those 3 pages, I see nothing fancy about Sepetys writing style. But the opening voice is arresting and captivating. Lina, her brother Jonas and her Mother quickly unfold as characters, and the amount of time spent in setting the scene is perfect: we spend just enough time with Lina’s family in their “normal” home setting to feel the frightening otherwordliness when they are stuffed into a train car and sent…who knows where, for who knows why? Lina’s inklings of understanding and memories of home are savored throughout the narrative as she grows from a headstrong artist to a survivor.
Martha P asked if no one remembered Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe (1968), acknowledging that we aren’t to compare BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY to it in this discussion, but reminding us of the book, and suggesting that it’s told with “so much more nuance.” I haven’t read Hautzig’s book, but as soon as Martha said “nuance” I did hear in my head the same broad note that is struck over and over whenever Lina is passionately riled about politics, or art. I’ll have to go back for a second reading to see if I’m remembering right. Still, though these parts seemed “flat” to me, I’m not sure how deeply they flaw the appreciation of the story for its intended audience, if at all.