Between Shades of Gray knows how to keep you turning the pages



So I finally set down to read Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray. It's the story of one teen and her family. The are living in Lithuania in 1941 when Stalin rounds up dissidents and intellectuals (her father teaches at the university) as well as their families, puts them on cattle cars and sends them to Siberia. The hellish trip takes six weeks. Things in Siberia are not much better than in the cattle cars.

This is the author's first novel, and I think she did two things especially well. Both of them involve pacing.

One is fantastic chapter endings and beginnings that pull you in and keep you reading.
- They took me in my nightgown. (first sentence)
- He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot. [paragraph break] We were about to become cigarettes. (last sentences of first chapter)
- It was the last time I would look into a real mirror for more than a decade (last sentence of chapter three)
- As soon as the umbilical cord was cut, they would both be thrown into the truck. (last sentence of chapter four)
- The child let out a soft cry and its tiny fists pummeled the air. Its fight for life had begun. (last sentences of chapter five)
- Have you ever wondered what a human life is wroth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch. (last sentences of chapter seven)

The second is extremely short chapters. The first seven chapters take only 23 pages. The author breaks up some scenes into many chapters. I found this encouraged me to read on and on. Heck, a chapter could be read in just a few minutes, if not less. Talk about a page turner!

I'm going to be trying to apply both these lessons to my own writing.
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It's a very fast read. I was sort of familiar with the subject matter, but I think a lot of people would not be.
I recently read this and got very absorbed by the writing and the story. Thanks for your observations - I'm going to take another look at the structure, especially those chapter beginnings and endings.
For a long time, all I could figure out was why a book didn't work. I think it's harder to figure out why it does.