Students Want to Know: Ruta Sepetys

I was positively thrilled when Ruta emailed me saying that she would like to participate and be interviewed by my students.  Night by Elie Weisel is part of our freshmen English curriculum and our students love it; it’s a novel that my students refer back to often when they move past freshmen year.  Ruta’s debut novel, Between Shades of Gray, is powerful and touching and one that my students have been so excited to read (Ruta was wonderful and sent us a signed ARC for my students to read before the interview).  Thank you, Ruta, for writing this book and for participating with my students.


Summary of Between Shades of Gray (From Goodreads): Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

** Ruta’s Website **
** Add Between Shades of Gray on Goodreads **
** Between Shades of Gray releases March 22, 2011 **

** My students generated their questions after reading the ARC and watching Ruta’s video. **

Hi Everyone!

Thanks so much for these great questions! I really appreciate it!   – Ruta


  • Do you speak Lithuanian?
    I understand a bit of Lithuanian but unfortunately, I don’t speak it. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t learn to speak Lithuanian.

Sam L.:

  • After writing the book and meeting all these people, do you believe you are a different person now?
    I wouldn’t say I’m a different person, but I definitely view things differently. For example, there used to be a lot of things I took for granted and now I no longer do.


  • How were the people saved?
    They weren’t saved, they were considered prisoners and once their prison term was up, they were allowed to return home. But some Soviet guards and individuals showed the deportees kindness that saved their life.
  • How was Lithuania and the Baltic removed from maps?
    When Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were occupied by the Soviet Union, it began a process called Sovietization. During that process, Joseph Stalin had maps redrawn and removed the countries previous names.

Karrah, Allison:

  • How did you find survivors?
    One of my friends in Lithuania helped me research and find survivors. Also, the Museum of Genocide in Vilnius, Lithuania put me in touch with many survivors.


  • How long did your research take?
    My research process took two years. But it was a lot of fun!

Tory, Adam, Rachel, Jessica D, Ashley M:

  • Do you think you would have survived?
    When I began writing the book I thought that I would have survived, however, once I met with survivors and began my research process I changed my mind. I honestly think I wouldn’t have survived. I’d be curious to know what you thought. When you read the book, ask yourself, ‘Would I survive?’


  • Do you want to write any more books about this topic?
    I hadn’t thought about it, but I’ve received many letters from readers who want me to write a second book, continuing the love story between Lina and Andrius. Maybe I’ll consider it.
  • Why did they have to burn the pictures?
    My grandfather was on Stalin’s extermination list. If Stalin’s men saw photos of my grandfather in my relatives’ house, they would know that they were related to my grandfather and they would arrest them.


  • Are you an artist?
    I am not an artist, but my father is.
  • Why did you move to Tennessee?
    I lived in Los Angeles for many years and it was always so frantic and busy. I moved to Tennessee to be closer to my parents and escape from the big city.
  • Are you writing any other books right now?  What are they about?
    Yes, I’m writing a book now about a teenager in New Orleans in the 1950’s.


  • How attached to you become to your writing?
    When I first started writing I found I felt very attached, but now that I’ve gone through so many revisions on my work, I don’t feel attached and I am  able to change things very easily.


  • What was the hardest part of writing about such a sad and unknown subject?
    Honestly, it was so hard writing about such tragic events and knowing that they happened to real people. It was very important to me to do a good job and honor the people that experienced Siberia.


  • How was this whole genocide covered up and why?
    During WWII, in the fight against Hitler, the United States and England were allies with the Soviet Union. After the war, certain countries remained Soviet occupied. People couldn’t speak freely about what they had experienced. So the story went dormant for many years.

Jessica D:

  • How did you come up with the idea of the jar being buried underground?
    There was a woman named Dalia Grinkeviciute. She was a survivor and wrote about burying her journal in a jar. I was very moved by that and was inspired to put it in the book.
  • Why did you switch careers? (Music to writing)
    Well, I haven’t switched careers, exactly. I’m still working 50 hours per week in the music industry and writing on the side. I have the best of both worlds!


  • How did you come up with the book’s name?
    I think people tend to categorize things in extreme categories and label things “Good” or “Evil.” But often the truth lies somewhere in the middle, between shades of gray. I wanted the title to reflect that .


  • How did you decide on the names of the characters?
    In my research, I looked at the lists of people who were arrested. I wrote down names to get an idea of names that were used during that time period. Then I selected the names for each character. Jonas is named after my grandfather.



  1. Great interview! These are all questions I had after reading this amazing novel. I loved hearing about her research, that had to be amazing. I’m looking forward to reading more by Ruta.

  2. Great interview, Ruta. I can’t wait to read your book. I’ve had it on pre-order for ages.

I love comments!

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