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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Sepetys' first novel offers a harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of countless Lithuanians in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country in 1939. In the case of 16-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, this means deportation to a forced-labor camp in Siberia, where conditions are all too painfully similar to those of Nazi concentration camps. Lina's great hope is that somehow her father, who has already been arrested by the Soviet secret police, might find and rescue them. A gifted artist, she begins secretly creating pictures that can--she hopes--be surreptitiously sent to him in his own prison camp. Whether or not this will be possible, it is her art that will be her salvation, helping her to retain her identity, her dignity, and her increasingly tenuous hold on hope for the future. Many others are not so fortunate. Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, estimates that the Baltic States lost more than one-third of their populations during the Russian genocide. Though many continue to deny this happened, Sepetys' beautifully written and deeply felt novel proves the reality is otherwise. Hers is an important book that deserves the widest possible readership. Grades 7-12. --Michael Cart


"A harrowing page-turner." - Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A gripping story." - School Library Journal, starred review

"Sepetys' flowing prose gently carries readers." - Kirkus, starred review

"Beautifully written and deeply felt." - Booklist, starred review

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Read an excerpt from Between Shades of Gray [PDF].

Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 490L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Philomel Books; 1 edition (March 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399254129
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399254123
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,016 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. The daughter of a refugee, Ruta is drawn to stories of strength through struggle. Her award-winning historical novels are published in over forty countries. "Between Shades of Gray" was inspired by her family's history in Lithuania. Her second novel, "Out of the Easy" is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, and her third novel, "Salt to the Sea, exposes one of the greatest hidden disasters of World War II. Ruta lives with her family in Tennessee.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

204 of 211 people found the following review helpful By Debbie's World of Books on March 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
It's been a long time since a book has touched me as much as this one has. I stayed up late to finish it and even though I was so tired I could not fall asleep for awhile because I could not stop thinking about the story. The story was haunting and heartbreaking.

I have read The Diary of Anne Frank several times and in fact just re-read it this year and I'm sure that is one of the most well known accounts from a victim of the Holocaust and really helped put a face on the victims. I felt like this book did the same for me about the victims of Stalin's deportations. This topic was something that I studied when I took Russian in high school and Russian History in college but I did not truly feel the horrors these people went through during Stalin's reign. It's made all the worse when you read that Sepetys based some of the events in the book from stories that actual survivors recounted to her.

The story is told from the point of view of Lina and the passages alternate between what is happening to her in the present and happier memories from her past. Through her observations we see how different people reacted to their circumstances. Some were defeated and gave up all hope where as others were determined to survive whatever the Soviets did to them. The circumstances brought out such acts of depravity and at the same time unbelievable depths of kindness from unexpected sources that you have to wonder how would you react in their positions.

If you have never read about the re-locations that Stalin ordered of the native people of countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and other countries that the Soviet Union annexed then you have to read this book. The writing was entrancing and will keep you glued to the book until the very end. It's really hard to put into words just how amazing this book is but I highly recommend it to everyone. I'd even go so far as to say if there is only one book you will read this year, this should be it.
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75 of 82 people found the following review helpful By shortandsweet on March 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
From my blog Never Gonna Grow Up.
I finished this book last week, but didn't get to sitting down and writing a review until now. This emotionally poignant novel shows us a World War 2/Holocaust story that many haven't heard before. In "Between Shades of Gray", we follow the story of one young woman who was taken away in the middle of the night from all she knew and forced to work in prison camps, being accused of being a criminal, and losing everything dear to her. This girl wasn't Jewish like beloved Anne Frank though and it wasn't the Nazis. This girl was from Lithuania and living under the oppressive hand of Stalin. The book is written in the style of first person reflections that in the end, we find out have been published to let everyone know about this little told story. The victims of Stalin's oppression were treated as criminals even after their release and were forced to never speak of the torture they endured. This story is fiction, but its basis is not. Drawing on research, talking to families of survivors, and on her own family's story of survival, Ruta Sepetys paints a vivid picture of the cruelty of war and injustice.

It is well written and for a historical novel and a very quick read. The chapters are short, but powerful. I wouldn't read it without a box of tissues near by. It's a tear jerker, but it is also inspiring. Lina is just a girl when she and her family are taken, but quickly grows into the woman she needs to be for her family. She is a character I think a lot of young adults can relate to, despite the incredible difference in situation.

This book is wonderful for anyone who loves historical fiction based on true stories. The way it is written appeals to adult and teen readers (who may have a shorter attention span for historical fiction). I think this would be a great book to accompany any lesson plan regarding WWII and shine light on a situation that not many know about.

Powerful stuff... well done, Ms. Sepetys.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Here's the thing. . . even before reading this book, I knew that Stalin was responsible for the murder of some twenty-million people. 20,000,000! How does one even comprehend such a number? I clearly remember thinking in high school, "How? What deaths? Does this have something to do with the Holocaust?" Somehow, after the Victorian period and Russian Revolution, but before WWII, the USSR just appeared. It just happened. I can't make sense of how I did this (and I loved history class), but I think I somehow just attributed all those deaths to the Holocaust because they seemed to happen at the same time, but I couldn't figure out exactly where they fit in and why.

And, of course, there were no stories, no actual, personal memoirs to tell me differently. No versions of Schindler's List or Elie Wiesel's Night existed about the plight of these European nations, ones which we in the United Stated don't know nearly as much about as we do France, Spain, Germany and Italy. Twenty million was just a statistic to me - a wholly regrettable, but forgettable, number, because there was no narrative. Until now.

Between Shades of Gray is beautiful book about human endurance and the will to survive. Lina, her younger brother, Jonas, and her beautiful, courageous, hopeful, and selfless mother, Elena, are one of the most wonderful families that I've read about in so, so long, and it's due to this that they were able to cope as they did. Lina's coming-of-age into young adulthood is wretchedly overshadowed by the need to survive. Her thriving talent becomes her lifeline, her tool that keeps her going because people must know what happened. The descriptions are well-detailed and harrowing.
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