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Between Shades of Gray

By Ruta Sepetys

“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

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.




1. As Lina’s family is first placed in the truck to take them to the trains, they meet the bald man who proclaims loudly, “We’re all going to die. We will surely die” (p. 22). How does his presence affect the other prisoners? Consider and explain how Lina and her mother react to his rants. In what ways is Elena (Lina’s mother) sympathetic to his condition?

2. Lina unflinchingly shares the nature of the condition in which she and the other prisoners are forced to live. What feelings does this candor evoke in you?

3. Upon arriving at the country train depot, the NKVD officers begin sorting the prisoners, and Lina asks, “Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch” (p. 35). How does this realization change Lina? In what ways does Lina better understand her mother’s actions and motivations?

4. Discuss the character traits that allow Lina, Jonas, and Andrius to ultimately persevere. How are these characters similar to each other? In what ways are they different? Which character are you most like?

5. Consider the consequences of not signing the documents which charge the prisoners counterrevolutionary activities against the Soviet Union. Does Lina’s family make the right decision by refusing to “confess” to these transgressions? Why or why not?

Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. She is the award-winning, bestselling author of BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY and OUT OF THE EASY. Ruta lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee.