What You Need to Know:|
• In 1941, a young Lithuanian girl and her family are taken from their home and forced to travel across Russia.
• As prisoners, they must work in labor camps and are deprived of food and all comforts.
• There are many scenes that reflect the inhumanities of war, including torture and murder. There are references to
prostitution and sexual advances, but no details of either.
• Awards and recognition include: Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2011; Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books
2011, Fiction; SLJ Best Books of 2011, Fiction; Amazon.com Best Books of 2011, Young Adult; The New York Times
Notable Children's Books of 2011, Young Adult.
• Although it was published as a Young Adult novel, it has captured the interest of many adult readers, as well.
• The Author's Note explains the Soviet occupation, the deportations, and the Baltic people that inspired her story.
"Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth?
That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch."
-Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray
I asked a young girl if she was upset by the horrific things that happen in Between Shades of Gray, and she said, "No, I was inspired to work harder and to never give up." She was able to see past the savagery that often afflicts mankind and find hope and meaning in the story, a true testament to the power of this book.
It is 1941 in Lithuania, and fifteen year-old Lina, along with her mother and her younger brother, Jonas, are taken from their home in the middle of the night. The Soviets had occupied Lithuania in 1939 and now they are deporting those they consider to be anti-Soviet. Their father is already gone. The Soviet Secret Police, known as the NKVD, show zero tolerance and absolutely no sympathy as they even snatch a new mother and her baby straight from the hospital. They are forced into cars normally intended for animals and basically treated as such. They travel great distances across Russia only to stop and do hard labor. They are beaten, humiliated, and tormented. As days, weeks and months go by, dignity is lost, despair sets in and many die, but at the same time, bonds are formed and the determination to survive emerges.
Lina finds some comfort in her drawings and in the kindness of some of the other prisoners, especially a young boy named Andrius with whom she develops a special connection. In addition to the basics of survival, Lina learns not to judge others or to underestimate their potential for both cruelty as well as generosity. She also learns to find humor and solace in surprising places. Italicized passages bring the reader back in time, the contrast highlighting just how different life has become for Lina. Don't cross this book off your list because you think it is part of another popular series with a very similar name! Between Shades of Gray is a valuable story about an important, but rarely explored, period in history. If we share this story and discuss what happened, maybe we will have a better shot at avoiding tragedies like this in the future.
2012, 368 pages
Ethnicity/Culture, Ethics, Friendship, Good Book Club Selection, History, War
• Why are Lina and her family taken from their home in Lithuania?
• How would you have felt in Lina's situation?
• How does Lina's mother remain so strong throughout their ordeal?
• What do the angry bald man, the unfriendly roommate, Ulyushka, and the brutal NKVD officer, Kretsky all
have in common?
• What are some of the tricks that they use to survive under such extreme circumstances?
• How does Lina's drawing help her? Does it help others as well?
• Why don't the prisoners fight back even when they outnumber their captors?
• Would you have shared your food with the bald man or Ulyushka?
• What role does the bond between Andrius and Lina play in the story?
• Where does Lina's determination come from?
• Could this type of thing happen in the world today?
• How could Lina and Andrius be united in the end?
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