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Morris Award Finalist: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys

The 2012 Morris Award finalists were just announced last week and it is yet another outstanding year for debut YA writers. The best part is that there is a little bit of everything in the selection: something for the paranormal readers, something for historical fans, and some great things for readers of contemporary YA literature. Here are the finalists:

  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns, written by Rae Carson and published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
  • Paper Covers Rock, written by Jenny Hubbard and published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.
  • Under the Mesquite, written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall and published by Lee and Low Books
  • Between Shades of Gray, written by Ruta Sepetys and published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group USA.
  • Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.
  • As a librarian, I have some work to do myself on reading a few of these titles still, but I cannot wait. I’ve come to expect excellent quality of writing and storytelling when it comes to the Morris Award, and my favorite on this list is no different. I love WWII and Holocaust-era historical fiction. It was my favorite time period of history to study in college (I was a History and English major so I got the best of both worlds). It is no surprise to me that Ruta Sepetys’s heartbreaking and thorough look at the forced relocation of thousands of Lithuanians is on this list.

    Between Shades of Gray is different from a lot of Holocaust-era stories because it focuses on the Russian genocide, a lesser-known horror from this time period. But horror it is. Lina and her family are not Jewish, they are not German. But under Stalin’s regime they are forced from their home to various concentration camps and eventually Siberia. It is a book that hits you in the gut. And like great historical fiction, this book is most engrossing, and most threatening, because these events happened. Thousands of families like Lina’s were torn apart and destroyed.

    There is hope, though, and Septys does a good job of making that an underlying theme in this book. Even at its most bleak–and this book is very bleak–Lina remains a character you will stay connected to.

    Be sure to watch this really interesting author video with Ruta Sepetys for a closer look at her heritage and how this book came to be.


    If you haven’t read this book yet and you like historical fiction, you don’t want to miss out on Between Shades of Gray. It is a historical book with depth and hidden layers, filled with facts that will stun but will not take you out of the story. You will travel along with Lina during this reign of terror and despair. But again, let me stress there is hope in this story. The Lithuanians, like so many people singled out for genocide, did not go quietly into the night. Ruta Septys’s story rings with authenticity. Be sure to read the author’s note. It may just make you want to check out more information on this little known part of history.

    I’m so pleased (and frankly not at all surprised) this book is a Morris Award finalist. It holds appeal for readers of all ages and is a book that leaves you unsettled in the way only the very best fiction can. The cover is beautiful also! You can take a look at the different covers this book has in an interesting discussion post from Thirst For Fiction.

    I’ve also had the chance to read John Corey Whaley’s equally unsettling story, Where Things Come Back. I know I need to seek out the other nominations now. There is no doubt that they will leave me feeling amazed, yet again, at the excellent stories that are being written for teens (though frankly I wish EVERYONE would read these awesome books).

    — Sarah Wethern, currently reading The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (a Morris honor winner herself!)