• Between Shades of Gray

  • By: Ruta Sepetys
  • Narrated by: Emily Klein
  • Length: 7 hrs and 47 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (1,919 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

An international best seller, a number-one New York Times best seller, and now a major motion picture! 

Ruta Sepetys's Between Shades of Gray is now the film Ashes in the Snow!

"Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both." (The Washington Post)

From New York Times and international best seller and Carnegie Medal winner Ruta Sepetys, author of Salt to the Sea, comes a story of loss and of fear - and ultimately, of survival. 

A New York Times notable book

An international best seller

A Carnegie Medal nominee 

A William C. Morris Award finalist

A Golden Kite Award winner 

Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life - until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father's prison camp. But will strength, love, and hope be enough for Lina and her family to survive? A moving and haunting novel perfect for fans of The Book Thief.

Praise for Between Shades of Gray:

"Superlative. A hefty emotional punch." (The New York Times Book Review)

"Heart-wrenching... an eye-opening reimagination of a very real tragedy written with grace and heart." (The Los Angeles Times)

"At once a suspenseful, drama-packed survival story, a romance, and an intricately researched work of historial fiction." (The Wall Street Journal

"Beautifully written and deeply felt... An important book that deserves the widest possible readership." (Booklist, starred review)

©2011 Ruta Sepetys (P)2011 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

Winner, Indies Choice Book Award

“Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both.” (The Washington Post)  

"Beautiful...a superb though grueling novel.” (The Wall Street Journal

Featured Article: 25+ Quotes About the Power of Kindness


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What listeners say about Between Shades of Gray

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Sunlight Through the Cracks

Lina is a 15 year old Lithunian girl who is transported with her family and other intellectuals like cattle on a train to Siberia. The beginning starts like many of the heart-wrenching novels about the atrocities of Hitler during WWII, however, veers on a diferent course of the untold horrors of what happened when Stalin's Russia marched in. Lina and family fight to stay alive in the biting cold, working on a beet farm berated by soldiers and treated like trash.

Despite the unbearable conditions, Lina finds strength and draws and documents the events and details of their condition in secret; manages to make a friend in Andress; and fights each day to save her family and persevere. This is a tale of the determination of the human spirit as told through the eyes of a young girl.

Ruta Sepetys delved into her own Lithuanian roots and discovered much of what she uses in this work of historical fiction. Truly breathtaking and frighteningly real, this novel transcends the bounds of your typical YA novel. Just when you thought you knew everything about 1941, a story like this sweeps in to shed light on another untold tale. Be sure to keep listening to the prologue and interview with the author; simply amazing.

49 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Bleak but important story. Wrong narrator.

What made the experience of listening to Between Shades of Gray the most enjoyable?

I valued learning about this part of history that most of us know next to nothing about. It's an important story to be told.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Between Shades of Gray?

I do not want to give anything away, so I will just say the discovery of the large owl and the events that followed.

How could the performance have been better?

My beef with this production has everything to do with the narrator. The narrator would be perfectly fine reading a book set in a happy-go-lucky suburb of America, centered around the ups and downs of a pampered teenager. The tone is whiny and emotionally shallow. She was most definitely the wrong pick to narrate this story. She described the horrors experienced by Lithuanians and others like she was describing a failed shopping trip to the mall. Her narration seriously detracted from the impact, weight, and believability of the story. I nearly gave up on it within the first hour or two. The only thing that kept me going was my desire to learn more about this aspect of history and the fact that this is an upcoming book club selection, and I didn't have time to sit and read the book (which would have been far preferable in this case).

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The book made me very sad but also reflective in a healthy way of all that we take for granted in terms of freedom, happiness, and health. The things we complain about are so trivial when you learn about the way others have and do suffer -- and still manage to love and survive with a grace.

Any additional comments?

Read the book rather than listening to the narration.

20 people found this helpful

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Read the book instead of listening

I will not purchase another audiobook with this narrator. It sounded like she was smiling while describing atrocities. I gave it a good 2 hours, can't finish. Book seems decent, wouldn't hesitate to read.

14 people found this helpful

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Great historical fiction story

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

This is a wonderful story about World War II that hasn't been told before. This is a story about family, friendship and love in extreme conditions. The piece that was most emotional was listening to the author state her "author's note" at the end of the book. It is obvious that this story is very close to her heart.

5 people found this helpful

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Very Powerful!

I hesitated to read this book because of the subject matter, but this is not the typical Holocaust story. Its the story of a Lithuanian family exile to Sibera by Stalin. The story is told by Lina a fifteen year old girl.

I connected to this emotionally it reminded me a bit of The Diary of Anne Frank. Although the story was heartbreaking it was exceptionally written. There was a nice balance between sorrow, survival and bravery. Its a very gritty story of a time in history I wasn't even aware of.

Great reader/voice very easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. Once I started I couldnt put it down. So glad I found this book, its going on my favorite list.

4 people found this helpful

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Moving, but painful story

Historical fiction that is sad, but well worth the listen. An engrossing story and good writing make this book very good, even though the story is serious and sad.

4 people found this helpful

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Very sad read

Between Shades of Gray is the story of Lina, a 15 year old Lithuanian girl, who is taken captive with her mother and younger brother and shipped off to a Siberian labor camp during World War II.

First things first. This is a good book. But my misfortune was that I read it AFTER I had read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and while these books both take place in World War II Europe, that’s really where their similarities end. Whether or not I felt more connected to The Book Thief because I was more aware of the tragedies in Germany rather than Lithuania, I don’t know. But this book just didn’t touch me in the same heartfelt way that The Book Thief did. And perhaps I can blame this on the rather grating voice actor chosen for Between Shades of Gray. It took all I had to get through the last 45 minutes of this audiobook. I found most of the characters to be extremely whiny; their voices like nails on a chalkboard. They didn’t seem to have the strength of Liesel or Max. Yes, I know these people were in labor camps but I didn’t feel their vigor or uncoquerable-ness (yes, I think I just made that word up).

And the ending just seemed rather un-realistic.

I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy this book; it’s just that it was only an alright read for me. Do I think I would have liked it more if I read it before The Book Thief? Yeah, probably but what can you do, ya know?

4 people found this helpful

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A Compelling Combination of Sadness and Hope

Wow...this is a difficult review to write because this was such an incredible, emotionally powerful story, I’m having a hard time finding the right words. I do want to say that Emily Klein did an OUTSTANDING job narrating this audio. I’m so glad that I chose to download the audio from Audible. Emily Klein’s narration was such that it immediately pulled me into the story and I felt like I was listening to Lina as she recounted what happened to her and her family. I also especially enjoyed listening to the author explain, at the end of the audio, a bit about the history behind this story and her inspiration for writing this book. I was completely clueless about this part of history but it’s certainly a story that needs to be told.

Between Shades of Gray tells a fictional story based around historical events that I am ashamed to say I was not aware of. During the time that Hitler was in power, he made a pact of non-aggression with Stalin in Russia which ceded several countries including Lithuania to Stalin. Stalin began arresting everyone who he believed may have anti-soviet leanings, men, women and children. Between Shades of Gray begins with Lina and her family being dragged from their home at gunpoint without explanation, loaded onto trains and shipped off. They had no idea where they were headed, all they knew was that there were hundreds of others in the same situation as they were, shoved like animals in a cattle cart on a train far away from everything they know. Lina tells about the journey, the struggles, the atrocities, and the kindnesses they found in the most unexpected places along the way.

It was those unexpected kindnesses and the moments of compassion and quiet strength that the author highlighted so beautifully that it left me a sobbing mess several times. The needless cruelties of some of the guards were in some ways shocking, but in some ways expected, because, far too often, its people that enjoy causing others’ misery that usually seek out these positions of power. One of the things that the author was able to convey was that, it is in the most dire circumstances that the truth of a person’s character becomes known. I think that some people would be surprised at some of the cruel things they may be willing to do to each other for the sake of their family’s and their own survival, just as I think they would be surprised at what they would be willing to risk in order to help a stranger. It’s amazing how far the human spirit can bend without ever being broken, and even then come back from such a unimaginably horrific ordeal and somehow be stronger and wiser and still have the capacity for love and compassion. Between Shades of Gray contains layer upon layer of truths about human nature, about love, about hope, and about determination intertwined into this heartfelt story that on the surface seems so hopeless and sad. The fact that the survivors of this had the foresight to bury the photos and letters and records of this time period so that their story could one day be told just astounds me.

I think that Between Shades of Gray is such an important story for a few reasons. First, to acknowledge what happened to the millions of Lithuanian people who died in these prisons and camp and those who survived to tell the story. Also, to be aware of the things a corrupt system is capable of. I recommend Between Shades of Gray to everyone.

4 people found this helpful

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I can't stop thinking about it!

If you could sum up Between Shades of Gray in three words, what would they be?

Gripping, revealatory, thoughtchanger!

Who was your favorite character and why?

The main young lady

What about Emily Klein’s performance did you like?

Such a great speaker

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Seeing their fathers face looking up at them from under the train, the forgotten loaf of bread, so many others...

Any additional comments?

I feel like it was me that lived through it....I'd listen on my 35 minute commute everyday, sat in the car at lunch, at home, in the coffee shop and when it was over-THEN I could take a breath.....

3 people found this helpful

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How did they possibly survive ?

I great book about surving the death camps during WWII. The book is told by one person who is taken from her home with her family and sent to a death camp in Siberia. It is an amazing book that tell the story of love surviving in impossible conditions.

3 people found this helpful

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  • LM
  • 05-20-19

must read/listen

It's an important historically accurate story about Soviet Union atrocities during WWII. Well written, not the best performance though.

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