Between Shades of Gray, Week 4

Welcome to the final Online Book Club discussion of Between Shades of Gray!

Were you able to finish the book this week? Were you satisfied with the ending, or did you wish there was more to Lina's story? 

Once Lina and her family are relocated from the Altai labor camp, their circumstances turn increasingly desperate. When I read about the family's time in Altai, I couldn't imagine harsher circumstances. But, their time at the camp almost seemed like a party compared to their experience in Trofimovsk. I couldn't believe that they had no supplies, and there was no plan to keep them safe from the harsh winter conditions. They were definitely sent there to die, not survive. 

What stuck out to you most about their time in Trofimovsk? I keep thinking about how they were forced to set up sick bunkers since so many people were becoming sick and they had to keep the healthy people safe. I also think about them eating a snowy owl. I know that owl was a miracle to them, but I just can't imagine having to eat an owl to survive. 

What did you think of the fact that Lina's mother didn't survive? It was heartbreaking when she finally passed—especially after they looked in her suitcase and realized she had saved a set of clothes so she could be reunited with her husband in clean clothing. That detail made me feel so sad. 

Did you have a hard time picturing what the huts they built would have looked like? The Baltic Initiative and Network has pictures of a reconstructed yurt that recreates the ones built by deported Lithuanians. Can you picture Lina and the other prisoners trying to survive in a structure like that? 

Lina and her brother would not have survived if that doctor had not visited the camp. What did you think when he arrived? 

At the end of the book, Lina's writings and drawings are finally found. She buried them to preserve the record of her experience. Lina's actions were not simply imagined by Ruta Sepetys—they were inspired by real people who buried messages to be found after the war. In 2015, while restoring an old theater, workers found a message left by prisoners who originally built the theater. Ruta Sepetys also shared that she was inspired by the true story recounted in Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė. Even though I wished Lina's story could have been shared during her time, it seems like it was more historically accurate for her to bury her work to be found later. 

What other things from this section stood out to you? What important events did I not mention? What parts were the hardest for you to read? 

If you're curious what happened to some of the labor camps after the war was over, check out this article shows how people live in these areas now. 

Finally, the video below shows Ruta Sepetys talking about the novel. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this book with us this month. If you enjoyed the book and want to read more like it, check out this list I created. Make sure to tell me if you check out anything on the list!

Join us again next month as we read Mary Poppins. I can't wait to hear from you in the comments section!