Between Shades of Gray

Next stop on my Carnegie Medal Award trip was Ruta Sepetys Between Shades of Gray.  This was the novel I was looking forward to the most, and it didn’t disappoint.  From the moment I read the opening line ‘they took me in my nightgown’, I was hooked.

It follows the war-time experiences of 15-year-old Lina, her mother and her younger brother.  It begins in 1941 when the family are taken in the night from their home in Lithuania by Soviet Union soldiers and are escorted across various occupied countries, living in appalling conditions and becoming increasingly more exhausted, malnourished and maltreated.

I knew I would love this novel from the moment I read the blurb and admittedly there is a part of me that wonders how much this instinctive awareness of my love of a certain type of novel affects my reading and enjoyment.  I’m not completely sure if that last sentence makes sense, but I know what I mean, and I think there is always a slight bias towards your own personal interests.  This does not necessarily mean that I am narrow-minded in my choice of reading, or that I am not prepared to fall in love with a novel or genre I would never have considered in the past, but I do believe readers lean towards a certain type of literature.  Yeah, that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but I am sure when I read back I will know what I am harping on about.

Throughout the novel I was shocked, saddened and completely absorbed by the plight of Lina and her family, especially as it was a plight I had very little prior knowledge of.  Perhaps the most scary/anxious part for me centred on the sections of the novel where the family were given an opportunity to wash/shower.  For my MA I studied a unit on the Holocaust and has lectures on the Nazis methods of mass murder and the sheer horror of the communal showers, so I was prepared for the worst outcome.  I was even more prepared than I should have been as when I read John Boyne’sThe Boy in the Striped PyjamasI did not expect the ending, but that is a whole different post.  Each bathing/shower section was met with bated breath and a huge amount of tension…followed by relief.

I am beginning to notice a common theme in the Carnegie Medal Award books I have read so far – a preoccupation with harrowing and upsetting subjects and issues.  I don’t know if I am happy with the seriousness of all the novels I have read so far, yes it is important that these type of issues are discussed and explored in children’s literature, but I think some light relief is needed as well.  Arguably some of the novels have humourous sections, but I still think these have been overshadowed by the more serious themes and I am not sure if, as a reader, I am completely happy with this, but that is just a personal preference.

On that note, I think I am going to take a mini break from the Carnegie shortlist and read something a bit different…choosing the next read is always a huge and difficult decision for any reader, however I think I am going to reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  Not quite suitable to counter balance my little moan about serious and depressing literature, but I need to read it to help my year 9 teaching.  Besides I am quite interested to see how I feel after a reread as I seem to remember I wasn’t a huge fan when I originally read it many moons ago.