What would you take? When the Soviet police come to take her family away, fifteen year old Lina has 20 minutes to pack to leave her home in Lithuania. She chooses a few clothes, a family photograph, and drawing paper and pencils, leaving the loaf of bread cooling on the counter. She cherishes her treasures, but can’t help wishing she had also brought the bread. She and her mother and little brother are shipped to Siberia packed in train cars, always worrying about and missing her father. Through the book more and more of their dignity is stripped away as they experience horrible hunger, cold, and back-breaking work under the watchful eye of the completely unpredictable Soviet police force. But in the midst of this extremely grim story, we also get glimpses of the humanity that Lina and her fellow prisoners cling to; moments of sharing, kindness, and celebration together. And through it all, Lina draws with whatever she can get ahold of including dirt and ashes. The other prisoners smuggle bits of paper for her to use, having seen her special gift for expressing the truth of their experiences.
Between Shades of Gray brings to light a part of history that is often neglected. Powell’s story examines the basis of what it means to be human, expressing the best and worst of those in difficult situations, equally present in the police as in the prisoners. The subject matter is somewhat grim, but Lina’s determination to live and draw and the moments of kindness add enough light to make it a truly rewarding read.