book reviews

Between Shades of Gray & What Happened to Cass McBride

Hello, dear readers!

This morning, instead of following my blogging schedule, I’m going to derail because I finally read some books. Yes, after months of not doing a book review, I’m going to be doing not one but two book reviews in one post.

This week, my summer course started. We’re spending five weeks thinking, reading, and writing about 14 YA (Young Adult) books of our choosing. This is a dream come true, especially after being swamped with stressful homework this past semester.

From Google images.
From Google images.

The first book I read for my summer class was a historical fiction piece.

Between Shades of Gray tells the story of Ruta Sepetys’ ancestors and his family. Unlike details of the Holocaust, which I heard about quite often in school, I knew little to nothing about the terrors that the Russian’s inflicted upon Lithuanian Jews. Sepetys decided to focus on the “group of people who were deported to the Arctic” (350). While this book is clearly rooted in historical facts, Gray also possesses a wonderful narrative, one that felt natural and not forced.

Lina is just 15 when she, her ten-year-old brother Jonas, and their mother are taken from their home by the Soviet secret police. They are forced into cattle cars. Soon, they learn that they are headed for Siberia.

Lina is a strong, believable character. Throughout the novel, there’s flashbacks from her life before her family’s arrest in June 1941 which either add insight to how her world has changed, or supports Lina’s courage and her will to survive. Personally, I loved the contrast that the flashbacks created: It made me realize how quickly someone’s life can be altered, how something simple like waiting for your father can mean something entirely different after being arrested by the Soviet’s.

The main character’s are tested every single day, and their fears, bravery, and grief felt real to me as a reader. The emotion that these men, women, and children expressed was written very well, without having to be forced in the slightest. Even though these family’s are put through a nightmarish hell, they continue to fight for survive and dignity.

I also loved how Lina’s drawing abilities were used in the novel. Lina, after witnessing several events of cruelty, decides that she will do as her father asked and draw landmarks so he can one day find Lina, her brother, and his wife.

I highly recommend this book.

From Google images.
From Google images.

The second book I read for my summer course was a mystery.

Told in a minimalist fashion, from the perspectives of the main detective, the suspect, and the victim in question, What Happened to Cass McBride kept me interested.

At first, I didn’t really like the main character. She read too much as a preppy, self-centered teenager who was very used to getting her way. As the novel progressed, while I still didn’t like her, I appreciated how Cass used what her father taught her to keep herself alive. In that respect, I liked that Gail Giles wrote Cass as someone who didn’t just roll over and accept her fate.

Kyle Kirby, seeking revenge for the death of his younger brother David, comes up with a cruel and extreme form of punishment for Cass McBride, the most popular girl in their high school. He believes that Cass is responsible for David’s death. So, he buries her alive underground. He tapes a walkie-talkie to her hand, using fear and threats to get her to talk to him. But, once Cass regains control over her paranoia, she uses the business techniques her dad taught her to keep herself alive, and to keep Kyle talking. Meanwhile, Detective Ben is trying to solve this case, what quickly becomes an Amber alert.

While the characters did get some fleshing out towards the middle and the end of the book, I found some of the dialogue clumsy, and some of the conclusions–especially the main deduction towards the end of the book–sudden and not very well explained. I didn’t hate the book, on the contrary, the switch between narratives urged me to keep reading.

I would recommend this book to young readers, especially teens who want to sink their teeth into the mystery genre. But, I would advise them to read classic mystery as well. I loved reading my dad’s copies of The Three Investigators when I was younger. I would also recommend reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes.

Read on, you lovers of books,


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