Ranking All Of Ruta Sepetys’s Historical Fiction Books

Ruta Sepetys is an American Young Adult historical fiction author who writes about often-overlooked historical events, usually focusing on 20th-century European history. Her books are written with teens in mind, but they are often considered “crossover” novels because of their simultaneous appeal to adult readers. Her father was a Lithuanian refugee, and this has inspired some of her fiction.

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Ruta Sepetys is an American Young Adult historical fiction author who writes about often-overlooked historical events, usually focusing on 20th-century European history. Her books are written with teens in mind, but they are often considered “crossover” novels because of their simultaneous appeal to adult readers. Her father was a Lithuanian refugee, and this has inspired some of her fiction.

I think it’s extremely important for people, especially young people, to read books about history because, well, it’s cliche but true that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. The more history you know, the more politics you know. The more psychology you know. The more human nature you know.

Ruta Sepetys has published five books, and I have read all of them. Let’s get onto the ranking!

5) Out of the Easy (2013)- 4/5 stars

Historical setting: 1950s– New Orleans, Louisiana

Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):

“It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.”

My thoughts: Out of the Easy is a good book, and essentially the only reason I am placing it last on this list is because it just wasn’t as memorable as Sepetys’s other novels. I would definitely still recommend it for historical fiction aficionados.

4) The Fountains of Silence (2019)- 4/5 stars

Historical setting: 1950s– Madrid, Spain

Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):

“Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.”

My thoughts: I learned a lot from this book, and my main issue with it was that it was rather slow-paced, although that is mainly a personal preference. You can read my full book review here.

3) I Must Betray You (2022)- 4.5/5 stars

Historical setting: late 1980s, Romania

Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):

Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.

Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

My thoughts: I Must Betray You has all the elements of a great historical fiction novel. It’s rich, gripping, sobering, and educational. I did find the messaging heavy-handed at points, but overall it was a wonderful read. You can read my full book review here.

2) Salt to the Sea (2016)- 5/5 stars

Historical setting: 1945– East Prussia (Germany)

Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):

While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army.Sepetys crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.

My thoughts: This book was the one that cemented Ruta Sepetys as one of my favorite historical fiction authors. It is written beautifully, the characters are all compelling (well, except for Albert), and it brings a historically forgotten tragedy to light. Read my full book review here.

1) Between Shades of Gray (2011)- 5/5 stars

Historical setting: 1940s, Lithuania, Soviet work camps

Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):

“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.”

My thoughts: And finally, my favorite Ruta Sepetys novel. Between Shades of Gray is a beautifully written and heartbreaking novel that dramatically opened my eyes to some more of the darker parts of history. I’d highly recommend this book to everyone. Read my full book review here.

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