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BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

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.

From the Publisher: 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.

In 1939, the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic nations, which then disappeared from maps, not to reappear until 1990. Teachers, librarians, musicians, artists, writers, business owners, doctors, lawyers, and servicemen were considered anti-Soviet and sent into exile. Esther Hautzig told this story in her seminal 1968 memoir The Endless Steppe; Sepetys's even starker novel is more extreme in its depiction of deprivation and suffering. When in June 1941 the Soviet secret police show up at fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas's Lithuania home and throw Lina, her younger brother, and their mother onto a train, a decade-long nightmare begins. "Like matchsticks in a small box," forty-six people were crammed into their car, "a cage on wheels, maybe a rolling coffin" bound for the vast nothingness of Siberia. So begins a human drama calling forth the best and worst of human behaviors -- courage, anger, fear, confusion, little kindnesses, and egregious selfishness. The bald man with the broken leg whines and complains, while the librarian organizes the children and tells stories, and all along the way Lina's mother keeps her family together. Sepetys creates complicated characters: there's more to the bald man than whining and complaining, and the young NKVD guard Nikolai proves not to be the monster Lina considers him. Two excellent maps and an informative author's note round out a haunting chronicle, demonstrating that even in the heart of darkness "love is the most powerful army." dean Schneider
Horn Book starred (Fall 2011)

In 1941 Lithuania, the Soviet secret police show up at fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas's home. They throw Lina, her younger brother, and their mother onto a train bound for Siberia, beginning a decade-long nightmare. Sepetys creates complicated characters in her story of deprivation and suffering. Two excellent maps and an informative author's note round out this haunting chronicle.
Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2011)

This bitterly sad, fluidly written historical novel tackles a topic woefully underdiscussed in English-language children's fiction: Joseph Stalin's reign of terror. On June 14th, 1941, Soviet officers arrest 15-year-old Lina, her younger brother and her mother and deport them from Lithuania to Siberia. Their crammed-full boxcar is labeled, ludicrously, "Thieves and Prostitutes." They work at a frigid gulag for eight months-hungry, filthy and brutalized by Soviet officers-before being taken to the Siberian Arctic and left without shelter. Lina doesn't know the breadth of Stalin's mass deportations of Baltic citizens, but she hears scraps of discussion about politics and World War II. Cold, starvation, exhaustion and disease (scurvy, dysentery, typhus) claim countless victims. Lina sketches urgently, passing her drawings along to other deportees, hoping they'll reach Papa in a Soviet prison. Brief flashbacks, seamlessly interwoven, illuminate Lina's sweet old life in Kaunas like flashes of light, eventually helping to reveal why the repressive, deadly regime targeted this family. Sepetys' flowing prose gently carries readers through the crushing tragedy of this tale that needs telling. (maps, timeline, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12 & up, adult)
Library Media Connection (August/September 2011)

As this historical novel opens, Lina and her family are being forcibly removed from their Lithuanian home by the KGB, for unknown reasons. Taken without warning, the family is transported to workers' camps. In 1941, the Soviets deport teachers, preachers, criminals, and other innocents to forced-labor camps with harsh conditions similar to Nazi camps. Told in first person with "before captivity" flashbacks, Lina relays her fifteen-year-old perceptions. As their train stops, talented Lina leaves artwork that may give a clue about where her family has gone. Poignant and compassionate, this story reveals a strong sense of hope, survival, belief, and family. As Lina describes the pain, cold, and oppression, the reader feels them as well. In the final chapter, the reader sees that Lina has survived, married, returned to Lithuania, and left a legacy of buried journals and drawings. In this compelling first novel, Sepetys portrays an unexplored topic. Sepetys took trips to Lithuania to obtain first-hand knowledge of those who survived. This story will stay with the reader long after the book has been finished, and this novel should be on every high school library shelf. Judith M. Garner, Media Specialist, Rock Hill (South Carolina) High School. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Publishers Weekly (January 3, 2011)

Through the pained yet resilient narration of 15-year-old Lina, a gifted artist, this taut first novel tells the story of Lithuanians deported and sent to Siberian work camps by Stalin during WWII. From the start, Sepetys makes extensive use of foreshadowing to foster a palpable sense of danger, as soldiers wrench Lina's family from their home. The narrative skillfully conveys the deprivation and brutality of conditions, especially the cramped train ride, unrelenting hunger, fears about family members' safety, impossible choices, punishing weather, and constant threats facing Lina, her mother, and her younger brother. Flashbacks, triggered like blasts of memory by words and events, reveal Lina's life before and lay groundwork for the coming removal. Lina's romance with fellow captive Andrius builds slowly and believably, balancing some of the horror. A harrowing page-turner, made all the more so for its basis in historical fact, the novel illuminates the persecution suffered by Stalin's victims (20 million were killed), while presenting memorable characters who retain their will to survive even after more than a decade in exile. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal (December 1, 2011)

Gr 8 Up-When teenager Lina and her family are ripped from their home in 1940s Lithuania, it's only the beginning of a terrible journey that will take her to a labor camp in Siberia as part of Stalin's forced relocation program. Moving, edifying, and quietly beautiful, Sepetys's well-researched novel is an exquisite look at a devastating atrocity. (Mar.) (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.