So I just signed up for the fourth annual Cannonball read. The full one, natch – 52 books in a year doesn’t seem like that much.

Can you tell I’m completely new to this?

In honour of and in countdown to the start of CBR4, I thought I’d post some of my old reviews. Full disclosure, these books were sent to me this year by Penguin, to review for the young adult section of their website. They weren’t necessarily what I would choose to read, but some of them turned out to be pretty good. Onward!



Ruta Sepetys 

Publishing date: March 22, 2011
344 pgs


At the beginning of Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray, Lina is fifteen, living in Lithuania with her parents and younger brother. By its end, she is changed forever – having not only aged, but endured some of the worst treatment a human can bear. Lina and her family are arrested by the Soviet secret police (the NKVD) in 1941, as Joseph Stalin is extending his reach over Eastern Europe. Over a period of many years, the story follows her desperate attempt to survive a journey that takes her from her home, to exile in faraway Siberia.

I am not usually one for reading historical fiction as I find it a little bit hard to get stuck into. But this book is different. We see the entire story through the eyes of Lina, whose narrative voice is strong enough to pull you in and keep your full attention at all times. When she describes the fear, the confusion, of being placed in a tiny train carriage with 40 other scared people, you begin to feel crammed in too. As Lina’s journey progresses, more and more of her background – and the reason for her family’s arrest – become clearer. We discover everything with her. Every betrayal, every twist, is deftly described by Sepetys.

It’s not all horrible, though. The story could quickly become too dark to handle, if not for Sepetys’ knack for finding the bright spots in the dimmest times. A major source of this are the relationships between Lina and her family, and Lina and a boy named Andrius. There’s unexpected humour, and real joy when good things happen for these people. Even when some of the worst things occur, Lina’s strength and ability to hold onto hope fill the pages. Andrius tells her not to give the enemy ‘anything, not even your fear’, and she does an admirable job.

Between Shades of Gray is an inspiring (not a word I use lightly or liberally) story to read. It involves a period of history you may not have considered before, a story that needs to be told. Sepetys has crafted an almost unbearably sorrowful tale, yet manages to make tiny pieces of hope visible to both Lina and the reader.

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