Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

(Not) Between the Sheets

On book tour for Between Shades of Gray, YA novelist Ruta Sepetys is attracting some bewildered guests

May 17, 2012 Few YA novels can approach the mega-watt star power of Ruta Sepetys’s debut, last year’s bestselling, critically lauded, award-winning, international phenomenon, Between Shades of Gray. Enumerating the Nashville author’s honors and acclaim can be as exhausting as listing Ann Patchett’s latest efforts on behalf of independent bookstores, but here’s the gist: critics love Between Shades of Gray, readers are buying copies by the boatload (185,000 copies have been printed so far), and Sepetys has spent the last year globe-hopping as the book appears in country after country (twenty-nine in all) around the world.

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on whether you’re referring to literary artistry or raw book sales—Between Shades of Gray is frequently being confused with a novel by a similar name: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Both authors have been on tour this spring. Sepety’s book is a YA novel about a young girl’s incarceration in Stalin’s death camps. James’s is about… something else.

“Employees of some bookstores have to be alerted that Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys have nothing to do with each other,” reports Entertainment Weekly. “James’ kinky erotica novel is the biggest publishing phenomenon of 2012. Between Shades of Gray is a phenomenon in its own right, landing on several 2011 year-end best lists, and even more impressively, getting teens to read about genocide in Baltic countries at the hands of Stalin’s regime.”

EW is not the only media outlet to notice the striking similarity in the book’s titles—or the fact that both novelists are on tour this season, creating the ironic possibility that fans of one book might show up at the other author’s bookstore appearances. USA Today and The Christian Science Monitor also reported the news.

Finally, NPR invited Sepetys herself to respond. Characteristically, Sepetys noted the upside of the confusion, and she wasn’t referring to the sales boost her book has gotten:

At a bookstore event in Cambridge, Mass., a man approached me after the public discussion and said, “I must have gotten my dates mixed up, I was here for a different shade of gray … but hey, did Stalin really kill all of those people?”

He may have come for a spanking, but he left with a book about a piece of history that was hidden for more than half a century and he now knows that the Baltics are different than the Balkans. For me, the mix-up is a victory.

Read the full essay here.

Between Shades of Gray won the Golden Kite Award (an honor by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Prix RTL-Lire (a French prize for the best novel for young people). It was also a finalist for the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award and the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Recently Sepetys was honored with Lithuania’s Patriot Award.