Thursday, September 29, 2011

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys (Audio)

You all probably know by now that I love WWII novels, even though at this point, I'm finding myself getting more and more selective.  Just like mystery/thrillers, after awhile they all start to sound the same, and takes something really special to make them memorable.

I'd been hearing about this particular title for awhile now, making it's rounds when it first was published in March of this year.  I even had the book sitting on my shelves.  But what ultimately motivated me to read it was the audio version (shocker, I know).  Thanks to Ti, I learned that I could load Overdrive on my iPhone, and just pluck audios at will from my library website, so I went nuts.  (I could never figure out how to get Overdrive titles on my iPod Classic.)  As always, if I want to get something read quickly, I turn to audio.

Synopsis:  Lina is a typical 15 year-old living in Lithuania in 1941.  She has friends, she is annoyed with her little brother, she has a crush on a boy, and she loves to draw.  All of that is stolen from her one day, however, when her family is torn from their home by Russian soldiers, for crimes which Lina does not understand.  Lina, her mother, and little brother are thrown on to a train headed for a Siberian work camp.  Her father is sent elsewhere.

While in captivity, Lina is befriended by a young man for whom she begins to have feelings, and who encourages Lina to continue to draw everything she sees - at great risk.  This tiny shred of pleasure is not enough to offset the horrors Lina witnesses...disease, starvation, murder, and dwindling hope they will ever experience freedom again.

My thoughts: In some ways, this story is identical to hundreds of stories that were born from WWII...a teenage girl suffering with her family at the hands of a murderous dictator's reign of terror.  In other ways, the viewpoint of someone terrorized by the Soviets instead of the Germans, someone from Lithuania, someone sent to Siberia, is something a little new.  These twists made the book completely worth reading for me.

The characters are well-drawn, generally likable and heroic in their small ways.  Their circumstances are tragic and extremely harsh, considering this is a YA novel.  There is no sugar-coating.  Babies die, fathers die, mothers die.  Soviet soldiers are brutal.  But at the same time, the victims also help each other to survive malnutrition, frigid winter conditions, and fight the desire to give up.  The rare Soviet soldier shows an act of kindness.  There was beauty amidst the horror.

Because Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, she has used real stories and real details to bring this story into sharp focus.  Carrying around a good luck rock.  Finding a dead owl and smuggling it home for food.  These little touches were a direct reflection, and a tribute, to the experiences of those who lived through this hell.

A word about the audio production:  The narrator for this audio production was Emily Kline, a new voice for me.  She does not appear to have much experience with fictional narration - most of her experience is with non-fiction.  Her vocalization for younger children was very high pitched, and actually made me wince because I felt it was piercing into my brain.  This was a distraction for the first half of the book, but I did get used to it.  

I did have one issue with the flow of the story, because I was listening to audio.  Throughout the story, as Lina is enduring a particular horror, she takes little trips back in her mind to an instance in her earlier life.  A conversation with her father, or her cousin, or mother.  In the book, these regressions were indicated by italics.  But in the audio, there was no pause or other sign that this flashback was occurring.  It was highly confusing.  Because of these reasons, I would recommend reading the book in print.

Despite my complaints about the audio, however, this is a beautiful book that I would highly recommend. 

4.5 out of 5 stars                

23 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I read this book in print and adored it! Members of my mother's family were exiled to Siberia and I'd heard stories about them the whole time I was growing up, so the book struck very close to home for me.

I downloaded the Overdrive app to my phone but have never figured out to use it. I need you to guide me!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Okay, now I need to find out about Overdrive. That Ti is always up on all the newest stuff!

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I read this one in print, and LOVED it! So many points in the story I was afraid for the characters. I will need to reread this at some point.

Anna said...

I absolutely loved this book. It made me cry, and it was unlike other WWII novels I've read. I borrowed it from the library, but I'm going to have to buy a copy because I want The Girl to read it, too. I'll add your review to War Through the Generations.

Zibilee said...

I know we talked a little about this one on the trip, and I am glad we did because your thoughts and impressions made me dig it out of my stack for a perusal. It sounds like this book was just different enough to get me past the burnout I feel for literature on WWII. Great review on this one!

Ti said...

I think that is the same reader who did The Borrowers and I hated that one and ended up not finishing it just because the audio was so horrible.

Caitie F said...

I read this one in print recently and loved it. The writing was just so beautiful. Glad you liked it too!

Darlene said...

I was supposed to get this book but it never did make it to my house. It still sounds like something I'd like to read though.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Good that you had a print edition, too, so you understood that those jarring passages were supposed to be italicized.

High pitched children's voices? I get enough of that in real life, I don't need it in my audios!

Anita said...

I love books about WWII too. Maybe it's because my parents lived through it.
I don't know anything about Overdrive...I may have to investigate. I mostly borrow audio CD's from library, for my car time.

Marie said...

I'm glad you liked this. I still mean to read it! :-)

Julie P. said...

Maybe I'm glad I read this one.

Jenners said...

I need to check into this Overdrive thing and see if our library has it. Though, whenever I have checked, they've had a pretty bad seleciton of audios -- mostly romances and crime thrillers and not much else.

I remember reading a few reviews of this book … and thanks for the tip that, in this particular case, the print version is the better choice.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I'm so glad this book had such an impact on you! I personally loved it, harsh as it was to read. Good to know the the audio is a no go - I read it in print so had no idea.

Carrie K. said...

I have this on my shelf in print, but have been wondering if I should listen to it since I saw it show up on the library's Overdrive site. After your review, I think I'll stick to print. :)

Serena said...

I might read this in print, rather than as an audio. sounds like a good one about the Soviet side of the WWII experiences.

farmlanebooks said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking that WWII books and mysteries are the same after a while and need something special to stand out. I'm not sure the fact the soldiers are Russian rather than German is enough of a difference for me. I need you to be jumping up and down raving about about WWII book before I'll be convinced I'm afraid.

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

Oh, thanks for reminding me that I really need to read this! I'll take your advice and do it in print.

Amy said...

This book is high on my tbr list but I feel like I've read many WW II novels lately so I was taking a little time. Your review makes me want to read this book now! I'm glad you liked the book. I appreciate your comments and advice on the audi production. Although I haven't started listening to books yet, I want to and I want to be sure I start with a book recommended in audio by people I trust like you!

Erin said...

Hmm, I definitely think I'll go the print route with this one if/when I read it. I recently listened to a narrator who did a similar thing with kids' voices, and it made me cringe.

Kathleen said...

This is a time period that I can never resist reading about. I'm not sure about the audio since I never do well with audio books but I will definitely add it to my "print" list.

Marg said...

I have this sitting on my shelf at the moment. I have high expectations for it.

Melissa said...

I love WWII books too, but made myself a note that this one needs to be in print!