Nashville Event: Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray

Part One: Getting there

Back in August I traveled over to Nashville for the Ash2Nash tour and let me say to you all that is the best thing that I have ever done. If you every get an opportunity to go see a book tour then you should most definitely go for it.

The Ash2Nash tour consists of six authors:
Victoria Schwab (who we have been very lucky to interview on this website)
Rachel Hawkins
Beth Revis
Myra McEntire
Julie Kagawa
Ruta Sepetys

I have read all of the books by these authors now and I love every single one of them! I will admit (and I am a little ashamed) that while I was there out of all of them there was one book that didn’t really peak my attention at the time and that was Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Instead of going and talking to the author I jumped over her table to talk to some of the other authors. Biggest. Regret. Ever.

To this day I cannot kick myself enough for not getting the book that day. I have now (obviously) read the book and I will say this, I have read a LOT of books before but this book is probably the best and had the biggest impact of all of them.

Let me give you a little background on the book. It’s about a Lithuanian teenager on Stalin’s extermination list during WWII. It took me a while to figure out why I liked this book so much after all the book is about torture and the torment that these victims go through during their time in these camps. It is also about hope.

When inscribing books Ruta writes “Love leads us to freedom” and “Hope. Love. Freedom.” and THAT is what this book is about, yes these books are about the horrors that the victims faced but it is also about the extraordinary measures it took to survive.

You guys have heard me mention this book before and it’s because this is a book that I truly believe needs to be read. I know that there is not one of you out there that will regret reading this book.

I got a group of people to go with me to Nashville and I was fortunate because my brother’s fiancé bought Between Shades of Gray and I was able to borrow it. I started reading the book around ten in the morning and it was one of those books that I could not put it down, but I did. I had to put it down at intervals during the day because the content is so heavy at times that you just need a moment. I read the book all day and night and I finished it around two in the morning.

As I lay in my bed after I finished reading it my mind did not let me sleep. The story kept running through my mind, when you read it you will find that there are moments, quotes that will never leave your head when you finish. I read the book in August and I still remember very vividly certain parts.

It was three in the morning, an hour after I finished reading the book; I did something that I have never done before. I emailed an author. These were the days before the website (it was one of the things I started because I was inspired by the Ash2Nash tour) and I had never contacted an author before. Not through email or twitter as I do now.

I was shocked a few weeks later when I received a reply! I was really not expecting one and it helps prove what I already know now. Ruta is not just one of the nicest authors but also one of the nicest people that I have met. Since then we have been emailing back and forth (I am waiting for her to tell me to stop emailing her because I do it way too much lol) and in December I got to go to a book club event in Nashville that she was at.

So as I’ve said before I just moved to Chattanooga and my friend who was coming lives in Knoxville still. She came down the day before the event and of course bad luck struck and we got into a CAR ACCIDENT! It was a little scary not being in control for that moment, but everything turned out fine, the other car was fine and we were fine. The only lasting damage is the cringes that occur whenever a car gets too close now.

We left Chattanooga around noon going a way we had never gone before (we had heard to route from Chat-town to Nashville was shorter than k-town so we thought we would try it). We thought we got lost when our GPS took us down into Georgia but it just turned out we had to go around a mountain.

It was a dark and dreary day, which meant we couldn’t walk down around downtown (which was sad) and so we decided we were going to go to Opry Mills mall because we had heard that it had reopened after the flood but we got there and it looked like a war zone and we saw first hand how devastated everything was after that flood. Then (because the event was still a few hours away) we decided to go walk around Opryland Hotel. Biggest. Mistake. Ever. Now all I want to do is stay in that hotel. It is so beautiful and really the coolest thing I have ever seen, to imagine that it’s a hotel is crazy! I was determined to go back for my 21st birthday in April and then I found out how much it was, which is why it was a mistake. WAY to expensive for a broke college student to stay in even for a night. Sad =(

So after that my friend and I tried to hunt down something to eat and no joke almost got into another car accident! A car cut the truck in front of us off and everyone slammed on their breaks and the car behind us had to go off on the shoulder. This trip has so far almost killed us twice. So we finally hunted down a place to eat and of course even though the place was empty we were sat right next to a party. Like seriously it was right next to them, I tried to get up and use the restroom and had to squeeze by them because we were all so close. It was interesting listening to their trivia questions though and Erin (can’t believe I forgot to mention it was Guest Blogger Erin) and I had a fun time answering them on our own.

Part Two: The Event

So now the moment you’ve all been waiting for we finally arrived at the event. We went into the room and all the seats were filled except the front row (I seem to remember this happened to me at one of the panels at Yallfest too lol) and so we walked to the front.

When we sat down Ruta came up to us and introduced herself to us (didn’t I tell you she was the nicest person ever!) and when I told her my name she gave me a hug! Now I’m not really sure if this is because she remembers me from my annoying non-stop emails or it was from me commenting on her facebook (maybe both lol).

The event started and let me tell you guys there was a lot that was said. If I think anything will be a spoiler I am going to leave it out, so there is actually a lot more that happened but you all will just have to see her for yourself to find them out. (Also I am doing this all from memory and I hope that I get it all right for you)

Ruta told us the story about how she was able to go to Lithuania for the first time in 2005 and finally meet her family over there. She asked for pictures of her family and the room went silent. The translator then told her that her family was asking her “don’t you know” and of course she didn’t know.

Her grandfather was a Lithuanian military officer and he was on the list and so her grandfather and grandmother and her father all fled. When the soldiers came for her grandfather her relatives burned all the pictures that they had. I cannot remember the exact number but when they could not take her grandfather they took other members of her family.

She was over in Europe (once again I apologize I can’t remember the exact country) but her translator told her about a group of people who were doing research at one of the old prisons and he said that he could try and get her to talk to them. This is how that conversation went:

Translator: You can talk to them
Ruta: Talk to them! I want to go into the prison.
Translator: No you don’t
Ruta: Yes I do
Translator: No seriously you don’t
Ruta: I will pay you
Translator: okay

She then turned to us and said “Remember I paid for this”. She told us about how she had to sign waivers to get into the prison and how her husband was concerned for her.

During WWII the soldiers in the camp used a few methods to breakdown their prisoners. They would use starvation, torture, and lack of sleep. Just when the people thought it was safe to sleep the soldiers would do something to them, to make sure that none of them ever slept. They did it as a way to make sure that they were always living in fear of the guards.

In the prison they didn’t have the time to breakdown their prisoners that way and so when Ruta and the others in her group entered one of the rooms they were hit, punched, and kicked by the guards. They did it to break them down.

Ruta turned to us and told us that you find out a lot about yourself when you are put in a situation like this. The people in these camps became who they were on the inside; there was no time to fake it for public appearances.

It took three minutes, she said, to break her down. She had a back injury (it had a name but I cannot remember) and that is why she was in so much pain. So when the first opportunity came for her to run away from the beatings came she took. Ruta told us that she stood up to run away and this little boy next to her turned to her and raised his hand asking for help and she pretended she didn’t see/hear him and ran.

When she was in one of the other rooms she was crying because of the pain she was in when she heard someone whisper to her “pssst American lady” she ignored him thinking he would be the one to get them all in trouble. The voice came again “pssst American lady” there was shuffling and a hand appeared on her shoulder “It will be alright, I help you”.

That is what helped so many people in these camps survive. Strangers helping strangers, risking their lives and well being to make sure that others survived. That is one of the reasons that I love this story so much. Between Shades of Gray shows how people band together in times of complete horror to help each other, to help others survive.

Ruta really has amazing stories to tell about the country and people that she loves. She told us that before she wrote the book she worked in the music business for a long time. One day someone asked her what her story was and the rest is history. She wrote this book to tell her story, to tell the story of those whose voices was silenced during this time and after. The Baltic’s disappeared from maps until the early 1990’s. It’s strange to me to think that the year I was born was the year that they regained their independence. There are people my age who were born into a country that didn’t officially exist. It was alive in their minds and spirits but to the rest of the world they had been forgotten.

When reading this book it was really the first time that I had heard of Lithuania and Latvia, and the only reason that I knew about Estonia was because I am a fan of an Estonian singer who also talks frequently about her time growing up when Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union.

I hope (and I believe that Ruta hopes) that this book will raise awareness about what happened in these regions. What Stalin did was as horrific as what Hitler did only in school we seem to only learn about one of these guys. Read this book, it will open your mind, it will show you to appreciate your life, and remember those who have lost their lives. Honor their memory.

I also hope that you are all inspired to tell your stories.

I will get up a review of the book for you all as soon as I can find better words to describe it besides just calling it amazing every other word.


Ruta and I


  1. Heather Bryce says:

    I read this book on your recommendation and I LOVED IT! I am recommending this book to everyone, and considering reading it to my 5th grade class.
    Thank you Hannah!

    • admin says:

      I am so glad that you liked it! While the book is a YA book in the US there are some countries that have it as a childrens book so your class would enjoy it =) Very brutal story but also a really great tale of hope and love and the human spirit.