The History I Should Know About
Following WWI, the Baltic States (made up of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) were established as independent nations. In 1939 however, Stalin and Hitler signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Agression Pact in which they agreed to not attack each other. A part of this agreement also included which areas they would control in Europe, and Josef Stalin was given the Baltic States, and part of Poland. Citizens who were on "the list," anyone from writers, professors, military, doctors, etc., who were considered anti-Soviet, were carted off with their families -- men were sent to prisons and the women, youth, and elderly were sent to Siberia. All were considered prisoners no matter what age they were, and they were sentenced for ten years or longer for having committed no crime. Many don't know about the 20 million people that died during Stalin's reign.
Below is the video from the website for the book -- take a look.
Ruta Sepetys discusses her upcoming novel, Between Shades of Gray from Penguin Young Readers Group on Vimeo.
Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives, she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experiences in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.
I spent the entire evening reading Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys. Part of Philomel Books, a division of Penguin, Sepetys' debut is a Young Adult book scheduled for release in March 2011. Incorporating true accounts and experiences from survivors, this fiction novel follows one girl, fifteen-year-old Lina, and her mother and younger brother through the aftermath of the Non-Agression Pact and Stalin's plans.
It's a frightening story. With the NKVD guard watching, the transported Lithuanians were sentenced to work on a kolkhoz, a working farm, and sentenced for ten years and longer. Farming for beets, digging holes, and only rationed 300 grams of bread per day, Lina and her family struggled to survive. There is no medicine and no warmth during the cold Russian winters at their gulag. Prisoners are starved, humiliated, and die.
Lina's artwork was always startlingly realistic for her age. As several prisoners did based on true accounts that Sepetys gathered during her research, they documented tragedies through writing, drawing, and wood carvings. Throughout Lina's "sentence" in the camps, she tries to draw as much as she can, atrocities forever etched on the scraps of paper she can find.
Fearful for what may happen, though, should they be caught, this evidence was destroyed or buried in the ground and never spoken about. Even after they were released years later, survivors were still afraid of being charged with another crime and returning back to the prisons, so they kept their stories buried.
This is probably one of the best Young Adult books I've ever read. It's an intense and tough subject matter of unspoken history, and the writing is both vividly descriptive and heart-wrenching, but also maintains the authenticity that this is told from a teenager's point of view. Sections that struck me the hardest at times were those that recognized that even in the depths of sadness, there were moments of hope and love.
Mark your calendars for March 2011 -- this is a book you cannot pass up. Ruta Sepetys' debut Young Adult novel has weaved in so many layers of history, family, and adolescence into one story of truth and hope that will never be forgotten.
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.
Visit the author's site by clicking here.
FTC Disclosure: I picked up this book during the SIBA Trade Show in Daytona Beach.
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