My favorite children’s book of 2011 was the YA novel “Between Shades of Gray” by Ruta Sepetys. This historical novel tells the story of Lina Vilkas, a 15-year old Lithuanian girl. After the USSR’s takeover of the Baltic states under Stalin, Lina’s family are deported to work camps in Siberia and even further, suffering unimaginable hardship and loss. This book is exceptional in many ways. Even compared to other concentration camp literature, the novel stands out as uniquely descriptive of the true human condition in impossible circumstances; it’s incredibly realistic and detailed in its descriptions of everyday life in a very natural way. You really feel that Sepetys answers the question, “But what was it really like to live through that?” The spotlight on Stalin’s depredations of the Baltic states provides a rare fresh perspective on a much-narrated era. In one particularly stark moment, Lina hopes that Hitler will defeat Stalin, unable to imagine that anyone could possibly be worse. But even apart from the novel’s historical value, Lina is a compelling individual instead of simply a conduit for a history lesson, and the reader sees her grow as a person in addition to enduring her circumstances. “Between Shades of Gray” is unmissable for any fan of Holocaust literature or historical fiction, teen or adult alike!