Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys tells the story of fifteen-year-old Lina whose family is deported from their home in Lithuania to a Siberian labor camp in 1941. As the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, Sepetys was inspired by her father to write about the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. However, while her father successfully fled from Lithuania in his childhood, many of his extended family members were forced to migrate to Siberia. Sepetys was astounded that these deportations were not heavily written about in literature, so she decided to bring to light this forgotten piece of history with Between Shades of Gray.
Ruta Sepetys conducted a great deal of research in preparation for writing this novel. She interviewed various survivors of the Soviet genocide to obtain a better understanding of their circumstances during this time period. Since she met with survivors who were teenagers at the time of the occupation, she intended the novel to be targeted toward young-adult readers. The information she collected is interwoven into every brutal and heart-breaking scene. Susan Carpenter of The Los Angeles Times describes the lives of Sepetys’ characters as “punctuated by cruelty and a starvation so severe they regularly sucked the crumbs out from under their fingernails.” Although this novel is classified as fiction, it is written with an overwhelming authenticity to the experiences of prisoners in labor camps.
When it was published in 2011, Between Shades of Gray received considerable praise. It was nominated for a Carnegie Medal, was a finalist for the William C. Morris Award, and won the 2012 Golden Kite Award. It has since been published in 42 countries and 26 languages. Schools throughout the world have studied Sepetys’ book in the context of their national history and culture.