Rating: 5/5 Stars
Recommended Audience: Middle school to adult
I read this book back in February of 2013. For some reason, I never got around to reviewing it until today. This is an outstanding historical fiction book that covers a topic that is often missing in literature and history classrooms in American education.
Much young adult historical fiction from World War II is focused on America, Hitler, and the Holocaust. All pertinent and important topics, but I was really excited to see a story that focus on the atrocities committed by Stalin and the Russians. For whatever reason, the story of the evils of communism and the Soviets is rarely told to young adults.
Between Shades of Gray tells the story of fifteen-year-old Lina and her Lithuanian family’s forced deportation from their homes to a Siberian prison camp by Stalin and the Russians.
The story is at times heartbreaking as the evil acts of the Russian military officers remind the reader of the evils of German military officers during WWII. The Lithuanians were forcibly removed from their homes, herded into rail cars with little food or water, and sent thousands of miles to the Siberian prison camps. Along the way the reader is shown the worst of human nature as the Lithuanians are treated like human chattel by the Soviet military.
This is Septys first novel to be published. She wrote the book because her grandfather was a Lithuanian military officer. Many of his family was deported and imprisoned. This is an outstanding first attempt for this author. I loved the characters, and thought Sepetys did an excellent job with the first-person voice of Lina.
The novel focuses more on the human element and experiences of the Lithuanians. There is not an extensive amount of background on Stalin, the Russians, and communism in the book. Part of me wishes there was a little more on the topic, but I do think that the book does a great job of sparking a young adult’s interest in this part of the story of WWII. We need more books in young adult literature that tells this story. Throughout American history, and especially in post-secondary education, we have seen so many dupes that buy the nonsense that communism is benign and is and always was nothing to worry about.
by Andrew Palmer
While I do enjoy reading a great fiction book, I would much rather curl up with non-fiction book and learn something. I realize that not all readers are like that, and young adult readers are often very reluctant to read non-fiction texts. If more writers wrote non-fiction books like this one, more of you would want to join me, and more of our teens would be interested in history.
In the biography in the back of this book, it says that Steve Sheinkin “has dedicated his life to making up for his previous crimes by crafting gripping narratives of American history.” On the surface this is a humorous quip, the reality is this is a sad truth about American history textbooks. Frankly, most of them suck. They do not engage students in any meaningful way, and they never inspire kids to investigate more. Add in an uninspiring history teacher, and it is no wonder you have a society that is apathetic and knows very little about its own history. Sheinkin has another book out that has been fairly popular with some of my students, it is called The Notorious Benedict Arnold.
In Bomb, Sheinkin takes three different story lines surrounding the development and building of the world’s most dangerous weapon and weaves them together. The first is the Americans trying to build the atomic bomb. The second is the Soviets and their attempts to steal the bomb through spies. I was fascinated with this part of the book. I was excited to see this written into a book for young adults. Sheinkin also includes a little information on the reality of who Stalin was. Young adults need to hear the truth on who the Soviets really were. Finally, the third story line was the Allies attempts to sabotage the German bomb program. This was really interesting, too. The details of these missions are sure to impress any reader.
Bomb is written in narrative non-fiction. For those that don’t know what this is, it is a genre that takes a historical event and tells it like a narrative story. It is such a valuable genre for getting readers to be interested in history. Those of us that are passionate about history know that it is best told in a story format. I wish more authors would write books in this manner for the young adult book market.
Bomb was a 2013 National Book Award Finalist, a Newbery Honor Book for 2013, a winner of the Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award from YALSA-ALA, and it won the Robert F. Sibert Medal for best informational text. Sheinkin should be applauded for his work in this text.