Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pizza and Pages: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys

Type of Book: Historical Fiction

Plot Summary:
On one June night in 1941, 15 year-old Lina's life is changed forever. Soviet NKVD officers ransack her home and force Lina and her family into a train car bound for Siberia. Along with many other Lithuanian families, Lina's must learn to survive in prison camps under the harshest of conditions. This is based on true events that occurred during Stalin's reign of terror.

Average Teen Rating: 7.2
My teens loved this one. A lot of them found it to be "depressing" but "very well-written". This book generated a lot of good discussion. I highly recommend it!

Discussion Questions:

1. A lot of people are aware of the Holocaust, but not as many are aware of the mass deportations in 1941. Were you? If so, did the book teach you anything new? If not, were you surprised to learn about it?

2. Have you read other novels that dealt with mass killing before, such as the Holocaust? How did it compare with this one?

3. When the NKVD comes to take Lina and her family away, her mother miraculously remains calm. Do you think this helped the rest of the family?

4. When Jonas observes his mother smashing all of the crystal as asks why, she replies that it's because she loves them so much. Is this a rebellion? Is her reaction appropriate or strange?

5. Do you think the author was good at describing the conditions that Lina and her family lived in (the train, the camp, etc.)? How did it make you feel?

6. Do you think you would have survived?

7. The Bald Man isn't painted as a very sympathetic character throughout most of the novel. What do you think his purpose in the story was?

8. Why do you think Lina, Jonas, and Andreas ultimately survived? What character traits did they have that helped them? Who did you relate to the most?

9. Do you think the people that signed the documents that charged them with counterrevolutionary activities against the Soviet Union were wrong? Weak? Could you see yourself or your family doing the same?

10. Lina's outlet for dealing with her situation is drawing. Do you have a similar outlet? If so, what is it?

11. What was your reaction to finding out that Lina's extended family was safe in Germany at the cost of Lina's family's freedom? Do you think Lina was justified in her reaction?

12. What are the "shades of gray" in the story?

I borrowed/tweaked some of the discussion questions from here.

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