“Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Ruta Sepetys grew up hearing stories of her father’s childhood as a Lithuanian refugee. Realizing this was a story never told in a novel for young adults, Ruta decided to tell it herself. When not writing, Ruta works in the music industry.”
Between Shades of Gray is also our April Book of the Month. Ruta took the time to chat with us for a quick Q&A.
Where did the inspiration for the story come from and how much of it is true?
RS – Well, history holds secrets. But secrets can be painful and secrets can be destructive. When I was in Lithuania meeting with family members they told me that they had burned all of the photos of my family, because they couldn’t let anyone know they were related to my grandfather. And so many people in the Baltics had experienced the terror of Stalin but had never spoken of it for fear of the consequences. The stories of Soviet occupation and Stalin are rarely discussed. And it occurred to me, there are so many heroes that we’ve never had the chance to meet or hear about. They’re nameless and faceless. So I was inspired to write the book to honor the many people who were deported to Siberia by Stalin. The characters in the book are fictional, but the things they experience are situations that were related to me by survivors in interviews.
As a reader, so many moments were heartbreaking to read, what was it like writing it?
RS – Emotionally, it pulled me through the wringer. Every day I was left pondering questions like “What does it take to bear the unbearable? And “Who survives this kind of thing?” I was left in awe of the people who managed to use suffering as a great teacher and somehow, while everyone around them was dying, their will to live burned like fire.
The cover fits so well with the story, did you get much input in the design?
RS – Thank you! I love the cover, too. I didn’t have any input on the design but I thought it was fantastic as soon as I saw it.
(This question is for those who might be unfamiliar with Stalin’s reign) Why was Lina in the labour camp so long after World War II ended?
RS – Following the end of WWII, many countries remained Soviet occupied, including the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The countries were considered Soviet territory and people who were labeled “Anti-Soviet” prior to the war, remained within that classification. So people like Lina were regarded as criminals.
RS – Yes, I was trying to balance the horrific events in the book with a bit of hope. And many of the survivors I interviewed during my research told me that they received news that someone had died, only to find out years later that they were actually alive. That thread of hope interested me and I wanted to weave it into the story.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects that you’re working on?
RS – Sure! I’m currently working on another young adult historical novel. It’s about the daughter of a prostitute who, against all odds, is determined to get into a prestigious college.
Do you think you’d ever revisit any of the characters from Between Shade of Gray in another book?
RS – I hadn’t really thought of it, but I’ve received a lot of requests to pick up Lina and Andrius’s story. It might be interesting to do that and, in alternating chapters, show what each character is going through until they eventually reunite. What do you and your readers think?
What books are on your To Be Read pile?
RS – Oh, there are so many! Here are a few:
“Strings Attached” by Judy Blundell
“Rival” by Sara Bennett Wealer
“Haven” by Kristi Cook
“The Fourth Stall” by Chris Rylander
And here are a couple I just finished that are fabulous!! :
“Across the Universe” by Beth Revis
“Dead Rules” by Randy Russell
Check out our review of Between Shades of Gray.
You can find Ruta online here: