In August I had the pleasure of attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference. The conference organizers gave attendees a fantastic line-up of speakers, but one in particular struck a chord with me. I had never heard of Ruta Sepetys before, and when a tall blond woman took the stage, I was curious what she would have to tell us. Sepetys is the author of Between Shades of Gray, a YA novel loosely based on the horrors that Lithuanians, including her own extended family, suffered at the hands of Stalin in the World War II era. As the author spoke of the terrible treatment these people received, being shipped off to labor camps in Siberia, I was a little embarrassed to realize that I knew nothing of this piece of history. The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were essentially wiped off the world map for more than 50 years.
Sepetys’ novel follows fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas, the daughter of Lithuanian intellectuals who are taken from their home and sent in cattle cars to a Siberian gulag. Despite Lina and her family’s bleak circumstances, Sepetys imbues her character with tenacity, curiosity, and even hope. Although it is a work of fiction written for young adults, this novel transcends age and genre, giving readers insight into an all-but-forgotten atrocity committed amidst the many horrors of World War II.
Here are some other books about Lithuania and about this time period in the catalog:
Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania 914.7 Estonia
Light One Candle: A Survivor's Tale from Lithuania to Jerusalem 940.5318Ganor
The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag after Stalin 947.0842Cohen
Goodbye Stalin: A True Story of Wars, Escapes and Reinventions Biography Thomas