Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel is a wow book! Adapted by Andrew Donkin, the Ruta Sepetys novel comes to life in a graphic novel format. The story of one family shows another side of world history, and how in World War II, the Soviet Union was not just fighting Germany, but its own people as well.
It might not be for everyone as there is much in the way of concepts and content that might be difficult, even for adults. A little-known piece of Lithuanian and Russian history unfolds during several years during and after World War Two, for thousands of “criminals” who only committed the crime of being born somewhere the Soviet government disapproved of. Men, women, and children were packed into cattle cars (labeled Thieves and Prostitutes) imprisoned, starved, and worked to death over a twelve-year period. Yet, somehow, the people found ways to survive, live and love. Yet some would give up only to become food for the wildlife. The narrator of the story is determined to stay alive, to have her father find them (herself, mother and younger brother), and will document everything she can on the punishment of death. Friends can come in odd places, people do things they normally would not to stay alive, lies can save you and the truth could put you in grave danger.
There are several situations that are not for young or sensitive readers: a person is shot, many of the prisoners are sold off into slavery, there is a baby tossed out onto the train tracks, and sadly, much more. Yet, Donkin’s and Dave Kopka (illustrator) present these scenes as tastefully as humanly possible. And the author does not focus just on the prisoners, but does shed a little light onto the soldiers and a little bit inside that sometimes humanity might be hiding in a human, but it can be still there.
Sometimes the illustrations of Dave Kopka are awkward, sometimes they are graceful, sometimes they are horrific to view and sometimes they are the most beautiful. They take earth tones, and create the Siberian landscape, the deadly winters, and the hope people find. Between the narrator’s own works of art and the pieces that make up the story, this book moves slowly at times, but always keeps your attention as both text and illustrations make you stop, reread/look again and contemplate.