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. This title is recommended for grades 9 and up.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Survival Fiction, Labor Camps
2012 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist
2012 YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults
5 Copies of Between Shades of Gray
1 Audio Book copy of Between Shades of Gray* (7 CDs)
1 Discussion Guide Folder: This discussion guide contains discussion questions, activities and other information to foster discussion of this book. You will also find information on starting and running a book club and other information. You may make copies of any of these materials. Please do not write on these materials and return all pages, books, and contents of this kit.
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About the Author
Born and raised in Michigan, Ruta Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee. The nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia disappeared from maps in 1941 and did not reappear until 1990. As this is a story seldom told, Ruta wanted to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during Stalin’s cleansing of the Baltic region. Ruta lives with her family in Tennessee.
Between Shades of Gray is her first novel. You can visit Ruta Sepetys at www.rutasepetys.com.
Watch the moving and poignant author video at betweenshadesofgray.com
Between Shades of Gray Discussion Questions
These questions have no right or wrong answers. Just think about and respond thoughtfully. Please share your own group’s discussion questions and comments by emailing email@example.com. Be sure to check the library’s teen pages at www.btpl.org for additional questions and comments from other book groups.
Questions furnished by the author.
• As the novel opens, Lina explains that though the signs were in place, she has little understanding that her parents had planned to attempt to escape Lithuania. What can be inferred about her understanding of the political climate in her country? Do you think her surprise is a typical
reaction for a teen? Why or why not?
• Lina’s mother remains calm throughout the roundup of her family; how does her family benefit from this?
• When Jonas observes his mother smashing her beloved china and crystal before they depart their home, he asks her why she is destroying these items. She replies, “Because I love them so much.” (p. 18) Do you consider this an act of rebellion? In your opinion, is her reaction appropriate? In
what ways is she trying to control the situation?
• 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?
• Using textual examples, what are some of the specific ways Lina’s mother chooses to fight back against the NKVD?
• Being held prisoner on the train brings out the best and worst in some of the inhabitants. Consider and discuss some of the ways that individuals extend their assistance and support. How do their choices differ from those who are most unkind to others?
• 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?
• How does the author use the embedded flashbacks to help readers understand why Lina’s family has been rounded up for punishment? Do you agree with the family’s choices? Why or why not?
• Though readers mostly learn about Kostas, Lina’s father, through her shared memories, a great deal can be understood about his character. In your opinion, what kind of man is he? Is he a good father? Use textual evidence to make your case.
Why does Lina’s mother, Elena, pretend she doesn’t know her cousin Regina? What is she trying to accomplish? What can be gleaned about Elena from this encounter?
• Though Ona’s baby is a newborn, she is still considered an enemy of the state due to the actions of her father. What can be understood about the government’s policy?
• 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?
• After Jonas is selected to be separated from his mother and sister, their mother is able to save his life by using her language skills and quick wit. What are some of the specific things she does to secure his safety?
• 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?
• Throughout the novel, Lina uses her passion for her art to remain connected to her family and the outside world. What are some of the specific ways she does this?
• What role does Andrius play in the story? In what ways is he a catalyst for the choices made by Lina and Jonas?
• Consider the consequences of not signing the documents which charge the prisoners of counterrevolutionary activities against the Soviet Union. Does Lina’s family make the right decision by refusing to “confess” these transgressions? Why or why not?
• Though Lina believes that Andrius and his mother are supplying information to the NKVD officers in exchange for food and shelter, she eventually learns that the arrangement comes at a great cost to his family. How does this knowledge of the lengths his mother goes to in order to keep him safe
ultimately affect him? How does Lina’s understanding of these sacrifices reshape her perception of him? His mother?
• Throughout the novel, the bald man is cast as an unsympathetic character. How do his random acts of kindness help portray him as more than one dimensional? Cite specific instances from the story where you find evidence of this. Why might the author choose to include these examples?