Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray


Ruta Sepetys

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Between Shades of Gray makes teaching easy.

Between Shades of Gray Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ruta Sepetys's Between Shades of Gray. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ruta Sepetys

­Ruta Sepetys was raised in Michigan and attended Hillsdale College, where she initially planned to study opera, but instead graduated with a degree in International Finance. In 1994 Sepetys started her own entertainment management company, Sepetys Entertainment Group, Inc., which has represented Grammy-award winning artists. Sepetys’ father is a Lithuanian immigrant, and her heritage inspired her first novel, Between Shades of Gray. The novel is considered to be a “crossover” novel, since both adults and teenagers read it widely. Sepetys has been granted many awards for her commitment to preserving the memory of the Baltic genocides, including the Cross of the Knight of the Order by the President of Lithuania. She has since written two more novels: Out of the Easy and Salt to the Sea. She currently lives in a tree house in Tennessee.
Get the entire Between Shades of Gray LitChart as a printable PDF.
Between Shades of Gray PDF

Historical Context of Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray is set during World War II, and concerns the genocide of the Baltic people. In 1940, the USSR (the Soviet Union) annexed the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and systematically deported citizens deemed “enemies” of the state. When the Nazis invaded the Baltic states in 1941, many of the deportees saw them as liberators, though Hitler then implemented the Holocaust onto the states and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Jews. Since the USSR was part of the Allies during WWII, the deportees were not liberated when Nazi concentration camps were freed in 1945. In fact, more mass deportations were carried out between 1944-52 due to the continued rise of the USSR. Prisoners were not sent home until 1956, and were forced to remain silent about their struggles in public for fear of retribution by the state. Between Shades of Gray seeks to rectify the lack of widespread knowledge of the Baltic genocide by illustrating the suffering of the Baltic people in the wake of the fall of the USSR.

Other Books Related to Between Shades of Gray

Other works related to Between Shades of Gray include young men and women coming of age during the genocides of World War II. Most famously, The Diary of Anne Frank is the published diary of a German Jewish girl living in hiding in Amsterdam with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The diary is a touching and revealing work that shows a curious and talented writer who tragically died shortly before liberation. Like Between Shades of Gray, it puts a very real and human face to the millions of people murdered during the war. Similarly, Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick is based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, a young boy who fights to survive in the Cambodian labor camps of the Khmer Rouge. Sepetys herself has also written two more novels: Out of the Easy, about a young woman named Josie Moraine living in the French Quarter of New Orleans during the 1950s, and Salt to the Sea, about refugees escaping East Prussia towards the end of World War II.
Key Facts about Between Shades of Gray
  • Full Title: Between Shades of Gray
  • When Written: Mid-late 2000s
  • Where Written: United States
  • When Published: 2011
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Young Adult Fiction
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Novel
  • Setting: Lithuania and Siberia
  • Climax: Towards the very end of the novel, Lina, Jonas, and the rest of the surviving deportees are facing a winter without adequate food or shelter. Nikolai Kretszky, an NKVD soldier who has spent much of the last year torturing Lina and the deportees, has a change of heart and defects from the camp to notify those who can help of the horrors happening to the Baltic people. A rescue team arrives, including a Dr. Samodurov, who nurses those on the brink of death back to health.
  • Antagonist: The NKVD, Josef Stalin’s Communist Regime
  • Point of View: First person, from Lina’s perspective

Extra Credit for Between Shades of Gray

Literary score. The musician Galvin Mikhail has composed a piano soundtrack to accompany the novel.

From YA to politics. In March 2013, Sepetys became the first American author of young adult novels to present at the European Parliament, where she spoke of the relationship between totalitarianism in the Baltic region and the importance of historical fiction.