A Million Shades of Gray. Cynthia Kadohata. 2010. [January 2010] Simon & Schuster. 216 pages.
Y'Tin Eban watched Tomas fasten the rope around Lady's neck. Lady was the smallest of the village's three elephants, but she was also the strongest, so she was much in demand as a worker. Today Lady would be dragging logs for the Buonya clan. The Buonyas' house had caught fire and they were building a new one.
I was so excited to see this one. A new Cynthia Kadohata book! And it's about elephants too! I was not disappointed. What is this one about? It's about a Vietnamese village torn apart by war. It's been a few years since the Americans have left, but war is still raging. And Y'Tin's village faces great danger from the North Vietnamese forces that are heading their way.
Y'Tin's Ama is just one of the village men who helped the Americans during the war. Knowing that his presence would only endanger the lives of his wife and children, he's all for setting out into the jungle. But. Before the men can leave. Before anyone can leave, the threat becomes all too real, all too urgent. The message used to be any day now, now the message is they're here, they're coming, flee!
How do elephants enter into the picture? Well, Y'Tin, our narrator, is an elephant handler. Yes, he's young--only thirteen--but he's good at what he does. Lady is his elephant to handle. She is his responsibility. The village has two other elephants--each with their own handler--as well. Y'Tin loves elephants; he loves Lady. He has promised to care for her throughout her life. But it's a promise that the war may make impossible to keep.
A Million Shades of Gray is a devastating book. It shows a village, a country, torn apart by war. It's chaotic. It's violent. It's ugly. Y'Tin may have known war most of his life--it may be all that he's able to remember. But he doesn't like it. He doesn't understand why.
The novel is well written, just what I'd expect from a Newbery award-winning author. It's rich in cultural detail. Y'Tin is a great narrator. His story was compelling though bittersweet. I found this one hard to put down. I would definitely recommend this one.
Once Y'Tin had seen some Special Forces soldiers playing chess. He hadn't understood why, with the same pieces in the same positions and with the same players, each game was so different. But now he understood. As they struggled to live in the jungle, every day was the same yet very different. (149)
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews