A Parent’s Guide to Between Shades of Gray (Book)

WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Type: Coming of Age, Historical

Basic Plot: Lina and her family are considered criminals against the Soviet union and sent to be slaves in Siberia. Confused, Lina is determined to find her father, whom they were separated from, as well as find out why they were deported in the first place.


Plot: 4½/5 Amazing: It is a linear story of one girl that goes through one suffering, but it tells the story in it of over twenty million souls who endured similar things. Based off true stories from friends and family, Ruta Sepetys tells one of the most heartbreaking and beautiful stories historical fiction I have ever had the privilege of reading. Characters had a lot of dimension, yet still had the familiar personalities we see every day.

Writing Style and Setup: 4/5 Well Done: The writing style was simple yet descriptive. I found every paragraph necessary to the story, yet feels full in the story. It also moves at a good pace, developing characters without having too much action or leisure time.

Moral: 4/5 A Great Moral: The moral of the book was the pure lesson of faith, hope and charity taught in the Bible. Lina has several good role models who have love and faith for both God and man, from her mother her refuses to be unkind to even the most vulgar of men, to Mrs. Rimas, a woman often found praying, and rather than being mocked, gives hope and comfort to her fellow prisoners. Neither woman is a pushover, as both are often found openly standing up for what they believe is right despite the dangers, but both women are loving, faith filled ladies determined to dream of a better tomorrow for themselves and others. The characters learn to have faith in others as even in the darkest days, people reach out in love. Most importantly, though, Lina learns to have a heart of forgiveness towards the people who abused her and her family, as well as hope for the future. Beside this, though, there is a bigger moral. Wherever you are or whatever you suffer, one day, it will be brought to light and the sufferings you endured will be over if not revealed to the whole world to know. So take courage and hold on, because you may live to see that day.

Overall: 4/5 Between Shades of Gray is a modern classic. It portrays a time and people as vulnerable as in Hitler’s Holocaust or the weakened masses in the Black Plague in such a raw yet ironically beautifully and hopeful way. I believe anybody, young or old, man or woman could read this story and learn and enjoy it, as long as they love to read and learn about history and the human race in general.

Moral Content

Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 4/5 Harassment and Nudity: A section is called “thieves and prostitutes” because that is the writing on the side of a train that innocent people ride in. A man briefly gropes a naked girl’s breast and stares at naked women. The girl is revolted and later suffers some anxiety when her male friend touches her hair. Men and women separately take off their clothes in front of staring soldiers, and then take baths together according to gender. From childbirth, a woman’s thigh and bottom are blood covered. A man tells two boys he will need help bathing. Different undergarments are mentioned. A woman hides food in her undergarments, which people later eat. A woman is coerced into unwillingly being a prostitute.  A girl is in her nightgown when she is taken away. A woman tries to nurse her child briefly mentioning even after the child is dead. A girl thinks about how her cousin went on dates. Men make and say obscene things to women, but what they are is not said. They also stare at them in a perverse manner, once being called “lusty” by the narrator. A boy yells at his mother to be more modest out of fear someone will force her into prostitution. He indirectly accuses her of doing so, and his mother assures him she is not involved in that. A woman mentions that a man saved her from being raped. A man asks a girl if she and her mother have been raped yet; they haven’t. Girls swim in water with their clothes on, but at first thought to be naked by boys and one ask the other if they will swim that way. A dead man is naked. A girl thinks how she has not had her cycle in months. A boy touches a girl’s hair and they kiss once times. A boy kisses a girl’s hand and neck. All of this is has pure intentions and/or is consensual. Boys and girls think each other attractive and say so. Girlfriends and boyfriends are mentioned, and a girl think about wanting certain people to be her boyfriend.

Characters are forced to use the restroom outside or in crowded trains, creating a terrible smell. A leaf is used for toilet paper.

Violence: 4/5 Disturbing Violence: A woman tries to strangle her own child and herself but is stopped by being smacked. A little girl says she was slapped because she couldn’t stop crying. Soldiers hit people on the face, shoulder, and head with their rifles, as well as kick and hit people. A woman pulls her own hair before insanely attacking and “clawing” a guard. A soldier pushes her over and shoots her. A girl imagines kicking and slapping a person who groped her, and later how she could have thrown wood at and spit on someone she hates and how she wanted to. A man throws luggage on a boy. A person slaps a girl’s leg. A woman starts to pull a girl outside by the hair and is slapped, pushed, and kicked by the girl’s family. A woman painfully grabs her daughter. People are pushed over. Soldiers throw cans and vegetables at young people. A girl playfully kicks her friend.

Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: 2/5 God’s name is taken in vain seven times, and possibly one other time. “Damn” is misused four times.  “Bastards” is misused twice. “Hell” is misused once. It is mentioned that people swear but does not say what they said. People are called “pigs,” “whore,” and “witch.” A place is repeatedly called “hell.”

Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 4½/5 Very Disturbing and Emotional Content: A man frequently talks about wanting to die, suggesting drowning and begging to be shot. He asks a boy to help him suffocate, but is refused. He says he believes foxes will eat them or they will freeze to death, both of which happen to some people. He implies their only hope is death. He tells people to eat him when he dies, but that never happens. A woman is covered in blood from giving birth. A baby dies, and the mother goes crazy. A boy angrily bangs a rock against the floor after a baby dies. It mentions the child smells terrible after several days. They drop it down the toilet hole. People’s dead bodies are described in mild detail. One man is missing his hand and his innards hanging out, and another on a stake. A girl digging a whole wonders if she is “digging [her] own grave.” Some women are instructed to lie in a whole, and a man kicks dirt on them and shoots over the grave. A woman is threatened with death if she does not become a prostitute. A boy threatens to tear a man’s tongue out if he doesn’t shut up. A boy asks what a girl’s mother would do if her son was threatened with death. A girl dies of disease, and her corpse is described. Characters have emotional breakdowns and cry from their terrible surroundings and the constant fear of death. Characters are said to have been shot or dead. Characters throws up. It briefly mentions that a crazed woman tries to nurse her dead child. A girl says her dolls head was shot off in front of her. It is mentioned that a man fought in the army. His sister worries his hand will break. A character gets scurvy and nearly dies, which is described in detail. Characters die from sickness and freeze to death. A woman dies of disease, and her family buries her sadly. Characters spit on other people. A character gets frostbite, which is described in detail. People die from being snowed in. Soldiers ask if “there are dead bodies” on a train. Dead people are carelessly thrown into the mud. A girl instinctively protects herself, expecting someone to hit her; he doesn’t. A girl draws snakes coming out of a man’s face and out of her mouth. It is mentioned that a soldier takes out someone’s front teeth by force as punishment. A girl remembers her grandmother when she was buried. A boy can’t move his legs. A girl briefly threatens to break her own hands. A girl sees herself as the person in The Scream by Edvard Munch. A man wonders if a boy is “the angel of death,” implying that his disease may kill them all. A woman asks God to kill her instead of her son. A man says his life is like Psalm 120. The characters read the psalm, which is about a man’s body fading away. A man hangs himself. It is mentioned that a boy accidentally broke his arm. The bombing of Pearl Harbor is mentioned. A girl’s cousin liked to talk about diseases. A girl talks about a cloud shaped like a cannon blowing up Soviet soldiers. A man finger shoots at a woman, mentally scaring her. Characters mention that doing certain things could sentence people to death. Characters hide dead bodies in their homes so that they can eventually bury them rather than have the bodies thrown away. Characters are bleeding and have black eyes, blisters, blue and yellow faces, bruises, cuts, dysentery, lice, phlegm, pus, scabs, scars, sunburns, typhus, and welts. Characters faint or fall over. “Coffin,” “dead,” “bleeding,” “[bile] chew heart” “fever,” “sick,” “small animal chewed on [her hands],” “stomp,” and “strangled” are all used for descriptive purposes.Characters wonder if they will die or be murdered.

Religious Issues: 2/5 Some Occurrence and Detailed Mention: A girl pretends to talk to her dead doll, and a man asks her mother is he wants her to talk to the mom when she dies. It is mentioned that tradition says a man had a prophetic dream that was interpreted by a priest. A priest is seen performing last rites towards a train. It mentions he has a crucifix, tosses oil, and makes the sign of the cross. Characters are mentioned to be Jewish. A girl wonders if a dead woman became a ghost. Hanukkah and the Maccabees are mentioned. A man prays Ma’oz Tzur, a Hebrew prayer. Europe is described as “hell” and Hitler and Stalin as “devils” fighting over it. The North Pole and Lithuania are also called “hell.” A girl says her mother told her that the soldiers will all go to hell.

Magic: ½/5 Brief Mention: A girl draws a picture of a dragon. It is mentioned that a man jokingly said his wife “bewitched him.” Characters say “good luck.”

Others: Characters drink brandy, blackberry liqueur, cognac, vodka, and whiskey. Beer is mentioned in speech. Characters as young as ten are found smoking; none of the negative affects are mentioned, merely showing that people seem to find comfort in it. Alcoholic drinks and cigarettes are given away. A girl admires the art of Edvard Munch. She mentions his art including Anxiety, AshesDespair, and The Scream. Characters play cards. Characters remember dancing. “Cigarettes” “waltzing” is used for descriptive purposes. The Soviet Union is communist, and several communist “heroes” are mentioned and their pictures framed including “Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin.” Hitler and Nazism is mentioned. The government of the country is Communism. A girl reads Pickwick Papers and Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens.

Overall: 4/5 Adult Appropriate: As I stated earlier, I believe every man and woman should read this beautiful book, but only if you are that, a man or woman at heart that can stomach the gruesome atrocities physically, emotionally, and even sexually to the characters in this book. Therefore I recommend it to adults and mature teenagers.



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