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A Million Shades of Gray Paperback – November 1, 2011
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No one in his village denies that—his mother may wish that he’d spend more time on school work than on elephant training, but still she knows that it takes a great deal of courage and calm to deal with elephants the way that Y'Tin does. He is almost the best trainer in the village—and, at twelve-years old, he’s certainly the youngest. Maybe he’ll even open up his own school some day to teach other Montagnards how to train wild elephants? That was the plan anyway—back before American troops pulled out of the Vietnam War, back before his village became occupied by Viet Cong forces seeking revenge, back before Y'Tin watched his life change in a million terrible ways.
Now, his bravery is truly put to the test: he can stay in his village, held captive by the Viet Cong or he can risk his life (and save his elephant’s) by fleeing into the jungle. The Montagnards know their surroundings well. After all, this is why Y'Tin’s village had become loyal US allies during the war, having been tapped by Special Forces for their tracking skills and familiarity with the jungle. But that also means that Y'Tin knows how unsafe it can be—and how much danger he is in if he chooses to head out with no destination in mind.
At once heartbreaking and full of hope, Newbery Medal-winning author Cynthia Kadohata’s exploration into the depth of the jungle and the not-so-distant past brings us close to a world few people know about—and none will ever forget. Y'Tin’s story is one of lasting friendships, desperate choices and all that we lose when we are forced to change.
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Set in the mid-'70s, this historical novel follows the struggle and ultimate destruction of a remote village of Dega people living in the hills of South Vietnam. Y'Tin wants nothing more than to be an elephant handler, and his dream is realized when, at the age of thirteen, he is assigned the all-important task of caring for Lady, one of the tribe's three elephants. Although the Americans have left Vietnam, the war rages on, despite the mandates of the Paris Peace Treaty, and when word reaches the small village that the North Vietnamese Army is about to attack, the entire community prepares to embark into the jungle where they have no hopes of survival. The NVA do arrive, and Y'Tin witnesses their extraordinarily violent attack on his home and neighbors; he and his friend Y'Juen manage to escape and soon find the elephants and the third young handler in the jungle. The latter part of the story follows the three boys and the elephants as they deal with the realization that half their village has been brutally murdered while the other half is hidden somewhere in the hills, starting a guerilla defensive in hopes of standing up to the much stronger North Vietnamese. The internal conflict among the boys is abundant, with alliances shifting and suspicion constantly on the rise. Because Y'Tin's father worked for the American Special Forces, the other boys blame him for the trouble; Y'Tin withdraws to his elephant but she, too, is demonstrating a shift in alliance, as she keeps disappearing to spend time with a herd of wild elephants. The relationships are strongly crafted, most notably that of Y'Tin and his father, a man whom he trusts above all others, and the dialogue between the two of them is particularly loving. The strong characters set against the backdrop of volatile events makes for a riveting read, and fans of both history and relationship stories will find plenty to
take in. A brief author's note is included. -- "BULLETIN, "March 1, 2010
War has never been far from Y'Tin's life. He'd grown fond of the jovial American soldiers his father had helped over the years, and now, in 1973, the North Vietnamese army is menacing South Vietnam-even his isolated Montagnard village. Still, "[a]ll his father thought about was the war, and all Y'Tin thought about was elephants." While it's true that Y'Tin, a matter-of-fact 13-year-old with an easy confidence, obsesses about Lady, his hardworking elephant charge, she becomes only one of his many concerns. In a clear-as-a-bell third-person voice, with warmth and humor, Kadohata fully rounds out the character of Y'Tin-the way he loves and thinks, often measuring his own responses to the world with those of his ever-deliberating, never-wrong father. As he and Lady escape from the massacre that kills half the village, Y'Tin sees that between right and wrong are "a million shades of gray," like the elephant's hide, like the jungle in the dim light. A fascinating window into post-Vietnam War history and a wonderfully intimate character study. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14) -"Kirkus Reveiws"
About the Author
- ASIN : 1442429194
- Publisher : Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (November 1, 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781442429192
- ISBN-13 : 978-1442429192
- Reading age : 10 - 14 years
- Lexile measure : 700L
- Grade level : 5 - 9
- Item Weight : 5.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.13 x 0.6 x 7.63 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #330,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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When US forces withdraw and South Vietnamese forces are overrun, Y’tin escapes into the jungle with a couple of other boys and their elephants. Almost immediately a fault line freezes out Y’tin. The three boys had been close friends in the village, but under the stress of jungle life, the other two resent that Y’tin’s father worked for US Special Forces and that Y’tin, himself, had once gone on mission with the Americans. They believe that this is what has brought the war to their village. On the other hand, they recognize that Y’tin is more gifted in jungle craft than they, especially tracking, because of the education of his father.
Because of these skills, Y’tin is chosen to go back on a mission to reconnoiter their village, and he finds it’s been bombed out and nobody is to be seen. This leaves it unclear how many of the villagers escaped versus being executed by the North Vietnamese forces—but he does know many were killed. [Incidentally, the title comes from Y’tin’s view of the jungle after seeing the remnants of his village—i.e. instead of being a million shades of green, all he can see is gray.]
Besides telling the story of Y’tin’s adventures in surviving the war, the novel pivots on Y’tin’s role as a mahout—and ultimately as a protector of the elephants. Y’tin finds himself in a position in which his dream is no longer tenable, and he must decide whether take a heroic risk to save the elephants or hold on to his dream in the face of unfavorable odds.
The book is only a little over 200 pages arranged into 14 chapters, and—as would be expected of YA fiction—is readable. The book’s strength is in building a lead character who’s interesting by virtue of his mix of worldly naiveté and jungle [local] wisdom and giving him intense challenges and dilemmas. Weakness? The strict chronological progression results in a slow start in which the author spends a chapter establishing that the lead character loves elephants without anything interesting happening. However, if one gives the book til the second chapter, things start happening.
I’d recommend this book for readers of fiction, and particularly those interested in YA fiction and stories of war.