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Make no mistake, this 'Gray' is powerful tale of refugees

Special correspondents
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 03:21 AM

"Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys, ages 12 and older, 352 pages, Penguin, $8.99.

Monica: A few weeks ago, a friend called and asked if I had read "Fifty Shades of Grey," the first of a provocative trilogy that has such steamy scenes that I would be fired if I described them in a book review meant for children and young adults. Another friend emailed me about the series — billed as "mommy porn" by People magazine — then another asked about it at the gym.

About the same time, "Between Shades of Gray" arrived on our doorstep. The 2011 best-selling historic-fiction novel was released in paperback during the first week of April.

I worry that the book "Between Shades of Gray" and its cover of a snow-fringed eyelash might be mistaken as the titillating series that is hooking even nonreading women. I worry that the paperback release of one of the most beautifully sad, young-adult works of this decade might be discarded because it has a similar title to a different book.

"Between Shades of Gray" is a book that parents and teens should read together. Its emotional depth should take "Between Shades of Gray" to become a classic for high school reading lists and a book that every history and English teacher should read and recommend, if not teach.

Hannah McRae: The enthralling story begins in Kaunas, Lithuania, when Lina, 15, and her family are kidnapped by the Soviet secret police. The family is loaded into a truck, and a devastating journey begins that spans years and thousands of miles.

The book is set in 1941. In school, we have been learning about the terrors of the Holocaust and Hitler. But I had never heard of this particular enslavement of the Baltic people by Josef Stalin, the Russian dictator. After the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland, Stalin forced the deportation of any citizen believed to have contacts outside of Lithuania.

Lina believes that her family is forced into slave labor in Siberia because of her father's position in the Lithuania university. Educated individuals were targeted by Stalin to reduce opposition. Lina fights to survive the brutal labor and the below-freezing winters of Siberia by keeping hope that she will see her family reunited one day. Her mother, brother and Lina remain together, but her father is sent to a prison.

An accomplished artist, Lina clings to her sanity by drawing everything that happens. But if the drawings are discovered by the Soviet soldiers, she would be executed. Fellow inmates suffer together, but they find hope in the smallest acts of kindness, including finding scraps of paper and pencils for Lina to use for her art.

This book presents a lost piece of history. The author wants readers to become aware of these crimes committed by the Soviet government so that they aren't repeated. Sepetys used stories from her Lithuanian family's experiences to build the plot as well as extensive research on people who lived through this horrific time.


To comment about children's literature, contact Monica and Hannah McRae Young at www.cheeReader.com or by e-mail at cyoung9@triad.rr.com.
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