Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys

Plot Summary

Lina Vilkas is an average 15 year old Lithuanian girl in 1941. That is, until one night when Soviet officers (NKVD) barge into their home and take Lina, Jonas, and their mother away from their comfortable home for no apparent reason. Groups are gathered and stuffed into small, dark train cars with no water, fresh air, or toilet. Lina’s train car consists of the three Vilkas, a mother and her newborn baby taken straight out of the hospital, a boy named Andrius who is around Lina’s age, and several others. After several weeks and nearly 6,500 miles traveled, groups are taken off the train and forced to work in a prison camp in the farthest reaches of Siberia. Lina, Jonas, and their mother farm beets and chop wood, receiving only small food rations in return. Lina and her family struggles to remain hopeful, find her father, and most of all, survive through the winter.

Lina Vilkas

Lina Vilkas is a 15-year-old girl with long, wavy, honey colored, hair and blue eyes. She serves as the protagonist in this story. Lina is very head strong, artistic, and caring. On page 8, Lina is introduced as an artist; she worried about her sketchbook more than any of her necessities when packing to leave with the NKVD. Later on in the novel she uses her artistic talents to trade for food and cigarettes. Lina is also described as headstrong. While she is there, she is asked what she thinks of the Soviets annexation of Lithuania. She replies, “I think Josef Stalin is a bully…” and her father tells her to stop and she yells, “But it’s true!... Its not right.” From the beginning Lina had strong opinions on everything. Despite her stubbornness Lina is also very caring, she often risks her life for the people around her.


Altai Labor Camp

The Altai Labor Camp was a large collective potato and beet farming area. The guards oversaw all the work and farming. There were clusters of decrepit one-room cabins, which formed a shanty village. The grey shacks were slanted, their roofs warped with weather. There was a small stove, a pallet of straw with an old quilt, tiny windows (made of pieces of glass puttied together), and a tin can for the bathroom. It was absolutely filthy. The three Vilkas slept on the floor.

Makarov Camp

The Makarov Camp was large building fitting at least thousand people. There was a large wooden, shared, bathhouse.

The Makarov Camp was filled with hope because it was the first time in months the deportees were able to take a shower.


I enjoyed reading Between Shades of Gray. The book was a very quick and easy read, while keeping me interested and giving some fascinating and tragic details on life in the Baltic region during Stalin’s reign. I especially enjoyed reading about these events from the point of view of a Lithuanian, as I’ve only ever heard about it from an American perspective. Sepetys did an excellent job with integrating facts and actual events into an easy-to-relate-to novel. Reading about such serious events from the point of view of a 15 year old girl gave a naive and innocent perspective on things, which I think is fitting for the intended audience.

Works Cited

"ABOUT." The Official Website of Author Ruta E Sepetys. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
"Between Shades of Gray." Official Book Website for by Ruta Sepetys. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.
Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. New York: Philomel, 2011. Print.