Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is all about stakes. Stakes are critical in a story—they are the So What? factor. So what if she doesn't get the guy? So what if she and her mother never get along? So what if the farm is being sold?
Some of the best stories are those where the stakes are built in. The author doesn't have to create them. They are there because the situation is life and death. Between Shades of Gray is one of those books:
This book sucks you in and makes you feel beyond your usual emotions right away. 15 year old Lina has been captured and is about to be taken by the Soviet army out of her beloved Lithuania to Siberia. Her father has been separated from the family, and she must find him.
This is not the kind of book I am normally drawn to. I love books like these. I know they are good for me. I know they make me remember what it means to be human and how lucky I have it, but I don't read them as often as I should. I am often drawn to brain candy and light romances or fast-paced thrillers or fantasies. But this books is already changing my soul, and I don't say that lightly. I'll let you know how I feel at the end, but you must get it from the library as soon as you can, just to read the beginning, if nothing else.
And the second book is a picture book I think I've read thirty times since getting it from the library—the funniest picture book I have read this year. I took some pictures of the inside to give you a taste, though the words are backwards.
It's called, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Bear wants his hat. He begins by asking a series of animals he meets if anyone has seen a hat, a hat he does not describe:
No one has seen it.
Then he asks this rabbit the same question:
But the rabbit claims (rather defensively) total ignorance of the hat.
Bear continues to ask other animals (one of whom says, what is a hat?) and one animal asks him to describe the hat. The bear begins to describe his hat—
and then we get this:
I will not give away the ending, but I will show you the last picture to give you a clue.
Oh my goodness, do we love this book at our house!