From the Publisher
Praise for Between Shades of Gray:
“A superlative first novel. A hefty emotional punch.”--The New York Times Book Review
“Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both.”--The Washington Post
"Beautiful…a superb though grueling novel.”--The Wall Street Journal
“An eye-opening reimagination of a very real tragedy written with grace and heart.”--Los Angeles Times
“An engrossing and poignant story of the fortitude of the human spirit in a dark time in Lithuanian history.”--Associated Press
“Brave Lina is a heroine young and old readers can believe in.”--Entertainment Weekly
“Please read this small window into a tragedy.”--NPR
“Beautifully written and researched, it captures the devastation of war while celebrating the will to survive.”--Family Circle
* “A harrowing page-turner.”--Publishers Weekly, starred review
* “A gripping story.”--School Library Journal, starred review
* “Bitterly sad, fluidly written…Sepetys' flowing prose gently carries readers.”--Kirkus, starred review
* "Beautifully written and deeply felt…an important book that deserves the widest possible readership.”--Booklist, starred review
“A haunting chronicle, demonstrating that even in the heart of darkness ‘love is the most powerful army.'”--The Horn Book Magazine
“Stalin deported and murdered millions, but he could not destroy the seeds of memory, compassion, and art that they left behind. From those seeds, Ruta Septeys has crafted a brilliant story of love and survival that will keep their memory alive for generations to come.”--Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of Speak and Wintergirls
“In terrifying detail, Ruta Sepetys re-creates World War II coming of age all too timely today. Between Shades of Gray is a document long overdue.”--Richard Peck, Newbery Award–winning author of A Year Down Yonder
“Between Shades of Gray is a story of astonishing force. I feel grateful for a writer like Ruta Sepetys who bravely tells the hard story of what happens to the innocent when world leaders and their minions choose hate and oppression. Beautiful and unforgettable.”--Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Newbery Honor–winning author of Hitler Youth
“Sepetys has penned a harrowing and heartbreaking novel. Beautifully written and important.”--Harlan Coben, international bestselling author of Shelter
— Ruta Sepetys
[Sepetys's] prose is restrained and powerful…Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both.
The Washington Post
Linda Sue Park
In the 1930s and '40s, Josef Stalin's regime killed tens of millions of people, a number so large that the mind tends to shunt it off into the abstract space reserved for statistics. Between Shades of Gray tells the individual's story that makes such cold facts meaningful…Lina recounts her story with a straightforward clarity that trusts readers to summon images of starvation, disease and death, and grounds them in a reality young adults can understand.
The New York Times
Through the pained yet resilient narration of 15-year-old Lina, a gifted artist, this taut first novel tells the story of Lithuanians deported and sent to Siberian work camps by Stalin during WWII. From the start, Sepetys makes extensive use of foreshadowing to foster a palpable sense of danger, as soldiers wrench Lina's family from their home. The narrative skillfully conveys the deprivation and brutality of conditions, especially the cramped train ride, unrelenting hunger, fears about family members' safety, impossible choices, punishing weather, and constant threats facing Lina, her mother, and her younger brother. Flashbacks, triggered like blasts of memory by words and events, reveal Lina's life before and lay groundwork for the coming removal. Lina's romance with fellow captive Andrius builds slowly and believably, balancing some of the horror. A harrowing page-turner, made all the more so for its basis in historical fact, the novel illuminates the persecution suffered by Stalin's victims (20 million were killed), while presenting memorable characters who retain their will to survive even after more than a decade in exile. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)
Praise for Between Shades of Gray:
“A superlative first novel. A hefty emotional punch.”The New York Times Book Review
“Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both.”The Washington Post
"Beautiful…a superb though grueling novel.”The Wall Street Journal
“An eye-opening reimagination of a very real tragedy written with grace and heart.”Los Angeles Times
“An engrossing and poignant story of the fortitude of the human spirit in a dark time in Lithuanian history.”Associated Press
“Brave Lina is a heroine young and old readers can believe in.”Entertainment Weekly
“Please read this small window into a tragedy.”NPR
“Beautifully written and researched, it captures the devastation of war while celebrating the will to survive.”Family Circle
• “A harrowing page-turner.”Publishers Weekly, starred review
• “A gripping story.”School Library Journal, starred review
• “Bitterly sad, fluidly written…Sepetys' flowing prose gently carries readers.”Kirkus, starred review
• "Beautifully written and deeply felt…an important book that deserves the widest possible readership.”Booklist, starred review
“A haunting chronicle, demonstrating that even in the heart of darkness ‘love is the most powerful army.'”The Horn Book Magazine
“Stalin deported and murdered millions, but he could not destroy the seeds of memory, compassion, and art that they left behind. From those seeds, Ruta Septeys has crafted a brilliant story of love and survival that will keep their memory alive for generations to come.”Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of Speak and Wintergirls
“In terrifying detail, Ruta Sepetys re-creates World War II coming of age all too timely today. Between Shades of Gray is a document long overdue.”Richard Peck, Newbery Award–winning author of A Year Down Yonder
“Between Shades of Gray is a story of astonishing force. I feel grateful for a writer like Ruta Sepetys who bravely tells the hard story of what happens to the innocent when world leaders and their minions choose hate and oppression. Beautiful and unforgettable.”Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Newbery Honor–winning author of Hitler Youth
“Sepetys has penned a harrowing and heartbreaking novel. Beautifully written and important.”Harlan Coben, international bestselling author of Shelter
VOYA - Judy Brink-Drescher
Up until the night the Russian military pounded on her door, fifteen-year-old Lina lived a nearly idyllic life. She had recently been accepted to a prestigious art school and was told she had a very promising future. Now, men speaking a strange language are telling her mother that the family is being deported from their Lithuanian homeland. Without knowing the precise whereabouts of their father, Lina, her mother, and brother soon find themselves packed into a cattle car with many other frightened countrymen. With the help of sixteen-year-old Andrius, Lina discovers her father is on the same train but bound for a different destination. She decides to document all she can in images so he can find them later. Unbeknownst to anyone, many would not survive this trip, and those that did would end up in Siberian labor camps. It was also under these circumstances that Lina and Andrius discover the true meaning of family, love, and loss. In the shadow of the Holocaust, many might be unfamiliar with Stalin's orchestrated genocide of the Baltic States. The first deportations began in 1941; many were unable to return to their homeland until the mid-1950s. Sepetys's father and many of her relatives were among those who either managed to escape into refugee camps or were deported or imprisoned. In her debut novel, Sepetys offers both a compelling love story and a well-researched historical chronicle. The themes throughout this novel are mature, and therefore the book is recommended for high school and above. Reviewer: Judy Brink-Drescher
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
It is June, 1941. Soviets have occupied Lithuaniaintellectuals are being deported. One night, fifteen-year-old Lina's home is abruptly invaded by NKVD officers; she, her younger brother Jonas, and her mother are given twenty minutes to pack and leave. Lina's father, a university provost, has already been arrested. From this dramatic beginning, readers follow the Vilkas family on a grueling journey from one bleak labor camp to another, ending at the most hopeless, icy Trofimovsk on the Arctic coast. In her own words and flashbacks from prewar life, Lina (a talented artist) records their story and draws her pictures, always hoping to find their father and determined to survive. Sepetys has drawn each character in the captive group (and one Russian guard) superbly, letting readers understand their motives, flaws, and strengths as the story progresses. Some, like a young mother and her baby, perish; others like Andrius and his mother are forced into bitter compromise with the NKVD. Most of the group help each other in whatever ways they canLina's lovely mother sustains them all. Young readers will find it painful to read about the cruelty of the Soviets, constant humiliation of the prisoners, debilitating hunger and cold, Lina's separation from Andrius, whom she has grown to love. Still, this story, little known to Americans, is important to tell. Sepetys, herself a daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, has done extensive research, traveled, and interviewed survivors to write a heart-breaking novel based on absolute truth, revealing the horrors and brutality of war, but also the power of love, understanding, and devotion to family and country. Two maps show readers the magnitude of Lina's journey. Those inspired to learn more might try William Durbin's The Winter War (Random House, 2008) about Finns (mentioned in Sepetys's book), also invaded by Soviet Russia. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
ALAN Review - Simon Gooch
In 1941, 15-year-old Lina's world is forever shattered overnight. She finds herself arrested with her family by Soviet soldiers, separated from her father, and forced into a cramped cattle car with other "undesirables." In a harrowing journey across Russia and ultimately Siberia, she witnesses and endures horrors that verge on the unthinkable. Forced into slave labor, deprived of human amenities ranging from healthcare to solid food other than stale bread, Lina and her family seem to be in an utterly hopeless situation. Yet, through strength of faith and love, they find hope in the smallest of occasions and mercies. Between Shades of Gray is valuable for its historical accuracy and its detail regarding the relatively little-known campaign of deportation and terror that befell many states annexed into the Soviet Union. This multilayered story is accessible, suspenseful, and powerful, delivering startling terrors and redemptive love in equal turns. Reviewer: Simon Gooch
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—This novel is based on extensive research and inspired by the author's family background. Told by 15-year-old Lina, a Lithuanian teen with penetrating insight and vast artistic ability, it is a gruesome tale of the deportation of Lithuanians to Siberia starting in 1939. During her 12 years there, Lina, a strong, determined character, chronicles her experiences through writings and drawings. She willingly takes chances to communicate with her imprisoned father and to improve her family's existence in inhuman conditions. Desperation, fear, and the survival instinct motivate many of the characters to make difficult compromises. Andrius, who becomes Lina's love interest, watches as his mother prostitutes herself with the officers in order to gain food for her son and others. To ward off starvation, many sign untrue confessions of guilt as traitors, thereby accepting 25-year sentences. Those who refuse, like Lina, her younger brother, and their mother, live on meager bread rations given only for the physical work they are able to perform. This is a grim tale of suffering and death, but one that needs telling. Mention is made of some Lithuanians' collaboration with the Nazis, but for the most part the deportees were simply caught in a political web. Unrelenting sadness permeates this novel, but there are uplifting moments when the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity for compassion take over. This is a gripping story that gives young people a window into a shameful, but likely unfamiliar history.—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Read an Excerpt
They took me in my nightgown.
Thinking back, the signs were there—family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape.
We were taken.
June 14, 1941. I had changed into my nightgown and settled in at my desk to write my cousin Joana a letter. I opened a new ivory writing tablet and a case of pens and pencils, a gift from my aunt for my fifteenth birthday.
The evening breeze floated through the open window over my desk, waltzing the curtain from side to side. I could smell the lily of the valley that Mother and I had planted two years ago. Dear Joana.
It wasn’t a knocking. It was an urgent booming that made me jump in my chair. Fists pounded on our front door. No one stirred inside the house. I left my desk and peered out into the hallway. My mother stood flat against the wall facing our framed map of Lithuania, her eyes closed and her face pulled with an anxiety I had never seen. She was praying.
“Mother,” said Jonas, only one of his eyes visible through the crack in his door, “are you going to open it? It sounds as if they might break it down.”
Mother’s head turned to see both Jonas and me peering out of our rooms. She attempted a forced smile. “Yes, darling. I will open the door. I won’t let anyone break down our door.”
The heels of her shoes echoed down the wooden floor of the hallway and her long, thin skirt swayed about her ankles. Mother was elegant and beautiful, stunning in fact, with an unusually wide smile that lit up everything around her. I was fortunate to have Mother’s honey-colored hair and her bright blue eyes. Jonas had her smile.
Loud voices thundered from the foyer.
“NKVD!” whispered Jonas, growing pale. “Tadas said they took his neighbors away in a truck. They’re arresting people.”
“No. Not here,” I replied. The Soviet secret police had no business at our house. I walked down the hallway to listen and peeked around the corner. Jonas was right. Three NKVD officers had Mother encircled. They wore blue hats with a red border and a gold star above the brim. A tall officer had our passports in his hand.
“We need more time. We’ll be ready in the morning,” Mother said.
“Twenty minutes—or you won’t live to see morning,” said the officer.
“Please, lower your voice. I have children,” whispered Mother.
“Twenty minutes,” the officer barked. He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot.
We were about to become cigarettes.