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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray (edition 2011)

by Ruta Sepetys

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,9392183,524 (4.27)101
Title:Between Shades of Gray
Authors:Ruta Sepetys
Info:Penguin (2011), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library, Modern Fiction, To read

Work details

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

  1. 50
    The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig (keristars)
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    Torn Thread by Anne Isaacs (BookshelfMonstrosity)
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    Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov (dreamydress48)
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  12. 00
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» See also 101 mentions

English (213)  Spanish (3)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  English (Middle) (1)  German (1)  All languages (220)
Showing 1-5 of 213 (next | show all)
Wow. That was stunning.

Sometimes, against my better judgment, I have a tendency to subconsciously distinguish between books that are riveting, and books that are worthwhile--at least with contemporary books. This book reminded me of how unnecessary such a distinction is.

It was simultaneously deeply compelling--short sentences and short chapters that moved you through the story at a quick pace, while never feeling like it was sacrificing depth or emotion--and unquestionably poignant. This book flew by like a pageturner that keeps you completely immersed in the story, but I slowed myself down to drink in Sepetys's lovely writing. (By the way, I love her name; gorgeous.)

In some ways, this felt like a more concise--and more successfully executed--version of [b:The Book Thief|19063|The Book Thief|Markus Zusak|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1390053681s/19063.jpg|878368]. I enjoyed the latter quite a lot, and thought the premise of having Death as a narrator lended some freshness to a story that has otherwise been much told and publicized. However, it was also--I'm not sure. Long without necessarily making use of every page, though I still thought it was a great book.

This book, though--wow. It tells a story that has largely been suppressed and untold, and leaves such a lasting impression on the heart. You can tell Sepetys has personal history and investment in this story, because the story really comes alive at every turn, with personal details to each character. Yet the voice also felt authentically YA--after all, Lina is only fifteen when all this begins.

Nothing felt melodramatic or overwrought; just poetic, simple, and beautiful. And the thing is, what Sepetys is describing is not exactly a walk in the park--there's real horror, and we get a strong sense for what the deportees suffered. At the same time, there's so much beauty and hope and love in the midst of it that I never felt like it was a chore to read this book. To the point where, despite the grim subject, I think I can picture myself rereading this book.

The romance was just one of many little details Sepetys stuck in with great sensitivity and care, and it was beautifully executed. And I loved the redemptive details too--for example, in the case of Kretzky, and the bald man. Again, nothing melodramatic or overwrought--but simple details that felt realistic and powerful.

In terms of the writing itself--like I said earlier, it's a lot of short, short sentences and really short chapters. Sometimes, when I read a book like that, everything just feels choppy. Here, though--it just works. And Sepetys comes up with such beautiful imagery and language. Really, I was quite in awe at every turn. ( )
  elephantine | Nov 27, 2015 |
When the Russians marched into Lithuania, they treated dissidents and their families almost as harshly as Hitler treated Jews. This story is told from the point of view of Lina, a young teenage girl from an affluent family who is forced into labor and a treacherous journey to Siberia with her mother and brother, while their father was imprisoned.
Although Lina and her Mother are admirable characters, and it was interesting to learn about the Soviet cruelty during WWII, the novel is slow paced and somewhat lacking in originality. ( )
  YAbookfest | Oct 26, 2015 |
Excellent account of the Soviet Union's treatment of the Baltic States during World War II. Follows Lina's family (father, mother, Lina, and younger brother Jonas) as they are quickly taken from their home in Lithuania to various work camps. Death and evil cruelty follow them in their quest for survival. On a par with Anne Frank and Holocaust stories of pain and the fight to survive. Great read! ( )
  alsparks | Oct 19, 2015 |
A good selection for upper grade historical fiction . It is a story that is not often talked about; the persecution of the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians during the WWI era. Be aware that there are scenes that are quite graphic. ( )
  asomers | Oct 14, 2015 |
Lina and her mother and brother are deported from their home in Lithuania by Soviet soldiers (NKVD) and moved east across Russia in cattle cars. They spend nearly a year at a work camp in Altai before being moved through Siberia into the Arctic Circle, where they are largely on their own to survive. They must build their own shelters, find or steal their own firewood, and supplement their rations (300 grams of bread each day they work); there are no doctors.

Lina, an artist, sends desperate, coded messages to her father, who was deported separately, and, once she and her mother and her brother Jonas leave Altai, she dreams of Andrius, who was deported from Lithuania with them but stayed behind in Altai. An epilogue reveals their fate.

Most WWII stories focus on the Jewish experience and the Holocaust, mainly in Western Europe; this is the first novel I've read that takes a non-Jewish Lithuanian girl as its protagonist. The story of those deported from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia is less well-known than the story of the Jews and other "undesirables" because they were unable to tell it until they regained their independence from the Soviets in 1991.


Our personal correspondence wasn't personal. Privacy was but a memory. (136)

"We're dealing with two devils [Hitler and Stalin] who both want to rule hell." (Lina's father Kostas, 168)

"Our country is doomed, don't you see? Our fate is death, no matter whose hands we fall into." (the bald man, 182)

Stalin's psychology of terror seemed to rely on never knowing what to expect. (240)

Those who show kindness in an atmosphere of cruelty are truly courageous. (Author interview, 351) ( )
  JennyArch | Oct 11, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 213 (next | show all)
Hope Morrison (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, May 2011 (Vol. 64, No. 9))
This harrowing novel recalls the systematic deportation of thousands of Lithuanians following the Soviet invasion of their country in 1939. Fifteen-year-old Lina, along with her mother and younger brother, is taken during the night and shipped off on a freight car for a six-week journey to a labor camp in Siberia. After spending nearly a year there, her family is again deported, this time to a frigid outpost in the northernmost region of Siberia, where survival seems unlikely. Conditions in the camps are horrendous, with inmates forced to perform hard labor in exchange for bread rations and denied the basic necessities of warmth, shelter, and sanitation. Abuse at the hands of the NKVD (Soviet police) is abundant, and horrific acts of violence punctuate the narrative. A talented artist, Lina draws for an outlet—; more importantly, she creates pictures full of coded information that she hopes will somehow get to her father, who is suspected to be in a Soviet prison. Lina’s voice offers a careful balance of emotional engagement and factual summary, providing a compelling account of this seldom-told chapter of history. The novel provides a testament to the power of community, as the deportees keep one another strong through the most traumatic events and hold on to their will to survive in the direst of survival situations. Readers will want to know more at the end, since an epilogue suggests that Lina survived and returned to Lithuania but leaves many questions unanswered; ultimately, however, this is a powerful story that deserves extensive reading and discussion. An author’s note, encouraging readers to learn more about the events in the book, is included. Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2011, Philomel, 344p., $17.99. Grades 8-12.

added by kthomp25 | editBulletin of the Center for Children’s Books,, Hope Morrison
Judy Brink-Drescher (VOYA, April 2011 (Vol. 34, No. 1))
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. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2011, Philomel, 352p., $17.99. Ages 15 to 18.

added by kthomp25 | editVOYA, Judy Brink-Drescher
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In memory of Jonas Sepetys
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They took me in my nightgown.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously and at great risk documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.
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In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother, and brother are pulled from their Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp while she fights for her life, vowing to honor her family and the thousands like hers by burying her story in a jar on Lithuanian soil. Based on the author's family, includes a historical note.… (more)

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