Words of Worth

A Little Gray Matter

May 5, 2013

gray readerAccording to an article in the LA times, the fastest growing genre in literature right now is labeled “YA”, books geared specifically for young adult readers. As children who love to read enter junior high, they are confronted with a whole new physical world as well as a whole new world through the pages of books.

A word of caution here: these books truly run the gamut from innocent and fun to very heavy themes of alternative lifestyles, bullying, and even suicide. So how can you guide your junior high students or your “tween” aged child through the labyrinth known as the YA section at the bookstore or library? Very, very carefully and don’t necessarily judge a book by its cover or its title. The ultimate way to help navigate this daunting task is to first read every book you recommend. That way, you will know exactly what the content is and the age appropriateness of the book.

Many books on the YA shelves are about magic and vampires. Those topics almost seem to be a genre within the genre. However, there are also examples of wonderfully written and accurately portrayed historical fiction on the shelves. These books should be explored by everyone – young and old alike – if we forget our history, we forget ourselves!

One particular book about a forgotten piece of time and history has recently received the attention it truly deserved. Although the way it got noticed is a bit ironic, the author is thrilled that people are reading her story. Before I recommend it and give you the title, here’s a history question: Name three countries that disappeared off the map in 1914 and didn’t reappear until 1990. Did you say Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia? Well, neither did I. In a portion of history largely forgotten and through a story seldom told, author Ruta Sepetys recounts the ethnic cleansing of the Baltic region under the reign of Joseph Stalin. Did I mention YA books are often unflinching in their subject matter?

Here’s a synopsis of the YA book “Between Shades of Gray”:

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost. Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?

I would highly recommend visiting the author’s website and watching the video on the main page after you read the book. What fascinated me the most was and still is the forgiveness these beautiful people have for those who wronged them.

This is NOT a book for children. The horrors of being interred in a work camp in Siberia are described but with the lightest touch. After I read “Between Shades of Gray” and finished weeping, I placed it on my personal favorite shelf so I can pass it on to my daughter when she is old enough to appreciate the atrocities of war will never overcome the strength of the human spirit.

Now back to the bit of irony I mentioned earlier. You might have noticed the title of this recommendation “Between Shades of Gray” is very similar to another series of books (for adults) that has been on the best seller list now for quite some time. This often happens in the publishing world and why I said not to judge a book by its title! However, because of this similarity, quite a few folks have picked up Ms. Sepetys book out of curiosity or by mistake. In an interview, she said a man approached her after a reading at a local bookstore and said, “I thought you wrote the other book, but I stayed to listen… Did Stalin really kill all those people?” He may have come in confused but he left more educated. The lesson here is simple: investigate thoroughly what you read for yourself and what you recommend for others! (CT)

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