Category Archives: Historical

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Sepetys, Ruta.  Between Shades of Gray. Philomel.  2011. ISBN 0399254129

 

Reader’s Annotation: In 1941 Lithuania Lina is pondering a crush she has on a local boy when her world is torn apart as Soviet soldiers burst into her home. Separated from her father, Lina, her mother and younger brother must survive cruel conditions and hope that they will one day see their father again.

Plot Summary: Lina is your ordinary 15 year old girl going to school, developing crushes on boys and hanging out with her friends. This all changes when Soviet soldiers tear apart her family sending her father onto a crowded and dirty train car while Lina, her mother and brother are forced onto another train.  This story follows Lina’s cruel journey to Siberia and the inhumane treatment they are given by their captors.

It’s inevitable comparisons will be made to The Diary of Anne Frank as both deal with a young girl’s painful story as they face persecution.  Lina’s story is gut wrenching as she endures unimaginable hardships and chronicles this all through her paintings.  Sepetys writing style will make readers feel as if they are a part of the story and the horrors Lina faces.

Stalin’s reign of terror was something I briefly covered in high school history and I believe many teens (and adults for that matter) know little about this time in history.  I think it’s great that Sepetys brings to light the horrible treatment of these people so they are not forgotten.

This will be an emotionally draining read but definitely one that everyone should read.

About the author

Ruta Sepetys was born in Detroit, Michigan and is of Lithuanian descent and is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee.  Between Shades of Gray was inspired by her own family history.  Between Shades of Gray is her debut book.

Her second book, Out of the Easy, will be coming out in early 2013 and follows the daughter of a brothel prostitute.

Genre

Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties

English/History

Book talking idea

Talk about some of the facts of Stalin’s reign of terror.

Reading level

Ages 12 and up.

Challenge Issues

N/A

Why did I include this book?

When I came across this book I thought it was a must read because this time period isn’t well known and the suffering these people went through should not be forgotten.

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Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Changeling

Gregory, Philippa.  Changeling. Simon Pulse.  2012. ISBN 1442453443

Reader’s Annotation: Luca is a 17-year-old orphan recruited by a secret sect commissioned by the Pope to investigate reports of evil that may mark the end of days. Isolde is the 17 -year-old abbess of a nunnery that is experiencing unusual occurrences & Isolde is suspected of witchcraft. What happens when the two meet?

Plot Summary: It’s 1453 in Italy and Isolde’s father has died.  According to her brother their father changed his will that force Isolde to choose between marriage or entering a nunnery.  Soon after her arrival the nuns start having visions, outbursts and stigmatas appearing on their bodies. Isolde is the prime suspect of bringing witch craft to the nunnery.

Luca is a 17-year-old orphan who has been selected to join a secret sect appointed by the Pope to investigate reports of evil that may indicate the End of Days.  He is sent to investigate Isolde.  Soon Luca finds himself in the middle of plots between nuns and laymen, reports of werewolves and accusations of witchcraft.  Will Isolde be found guilty and what will Luca do?

Critical Evaluation

This was quite a disappointment for a book coming from Philippa Gregory who is known for her adult historical fiction books.  Instead of one story it almost feels like it should be a collection of short stories.  The mystery of what ails the nunnery is not much of a mystery as it’s obvious who the culprit is from the beginning.  Luca’s investigation did not seem to involve much and he suddenly reveals this epiphany at the end from out of the blue as to how he figured out the guilty party.  The second mystery regarding a werewolf is also very obvious and wraps up with no help from Luca’s supposedly acute intellectual abilities that is emphasized at the start of the book and never revisited again.

Isolde and Luca both came across as very flat characters and there was not a single thing that made me relate or want to get to know either character any better. Yes, Isolde has a douche bag of a brother but other than that she doesn’t show any of the leadership skills her father supposedly instilled in her or strength that she is supposed to have.  Luca is touted as a highly intellectual young man with this keen mind for numbers but other than the introduction to the book we never see him utilize this skill.  In fact, other than being bossed around or being ran around by his servant, Freize, the doesn’t do much at all.

The only characters that did grab me were the two loyal servants, Freize and Ishraq.  They both have smart mouths and have the best lines in the book.  When it comes to making any discoveries and solving any mysteries it basically falls to these two to do the leg work and then whack the others in the head with the answers.

The other issue I had with the book was that the book is called Changeling but other than the fact that Luca is accused of being a Changeling because he’s so good-looking compared to his parents this doesn’t come into play at all throughout the book.

About the author

Philippa Gregory is well-known for her books about the Tudor period and in particular The Other Boleyn Girl.  She currently has written twenty-five books though Changeling is her first young adult book.

Besides writing she is also passionate about the charity she founded twenty years ago, Gardens for the Gambia, which raises funds to build primary schools in Gambia and teaches the students about market gardening.

Genre

Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties

English/History

Book talking idea

Secret societies and sects throughout history.

Reading level

Ages 14 and up.

Challenge Issues

N/A

Why did I include this book?

Philippa Gregory is such a well-known historical fiction author that I was hoping to include a great young adult historical fiction book.  I did not realize the book would be so light on any historical aspects that it was difficult to even really consider it a historical fiction novel.

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