Atoning for Pencil Freeze

To borrow a phrase from my friend and writing buddy Virginia Howard, there are speakers who “freeze your pencil” resulting in no notes on their talks. Ruta Sepetys, for example. Engrossed in her story at the Los Angeles SCBWI Summer Conference, I forgot the steno pad and pencil I had in my hand until they dropped to the floor when I joined the other 1233 attendees in a standing ovation.

I’ve atoned by taking notes as I read her book Between Shades of Gray. [I know – there’s another popular gray book this year. This is not it.] But this book is a New York Times notable book, an international bestseller, and a Carnegie Medal nominee. Billed as a young adult novel and set in the reality of Lithuania’s disappearance from maps from 1941–1990, its fictional account of Lina’s journey grips and holds a reader of any age. Lina’s unrelieved courage and creativity, from the moment she and her family are arrested in the middle of the night, carry her through inhuman living conditions sparked with hope in the drawings she secretly creates and passes along.

A few quotes will give you a small taste:

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”

From Lina’s view as the train pulled away from the platform:

“The priest looked up, flung oil, and made the sign of the cross as our train rolled away. He was issuing last rites.”

As Lina watched over her brother Jonas, near death from scurvy and starvation, and remembered her dashed hopes of going to art school and her favorite artist Edvard Munch:  

“Each time I closed my eyes, I saw the painting of ‘The Scream’ in my head, but the face was my face.”

The truth in this fiction came from Ruta’s search in real life for her family roots, which took her to a happening the world has forgotten. She has brought it back to life in Lina. Lest we forget . . .

P. S. This was a hearty meat-and-potatoes grow-your-soul kind of read. You might want to follow, as I did, with a light strawberries-and-cream-dessert – French by Heart by Rebecca S. Ramsey.