A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
A Million Shades of Gray

A Million Shades of Gray

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by Cynthia Kadohata
     
 

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Y'Tin is brave.

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

Overview

Y'Tin is brave.

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.

Editorial Reviews

Mary Quattlebaum
Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata commingles shadow (Y'Tin helps dig a mass grave) and light (his gentle care of his little sister and the elephants) in this finely drawn portrait of a boy trying to find hope and direction in an upended world. This remarkable work of historic fiction powerfully evokes a specific time and place while exploring issues pertinent to any war.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Newbery Medalist Kadohata (Kira-Kira) shows that truth has as many shades of gray as an elephant in this emotionally taut survival story, set in war-torn South Vietnam. After American troops leave his village, Y’Tin, his family, and his neighbors are left to fend off their enemies themselves. But Y’Tin’s mind isn’t on war. It’s on his pet elephant, Lady, and his dreams of opening an elephant-training school. His hopes vanish when North Vietnamese soldiers devastate his small village (Y’Tin helps dig a mass grave at one point). Y’Tin manages to escape into the jungle with a friend, where he reunites with Lady, but separated from family and friends, his thoughts grow dark. As the days go by, he becomes angrier and less trusting, wondering “if he would ever feel safe again or if safety was gone from his life forever.” Illustrating the wisdom of Y’Tin’s father’s words—“The jungle changes a man”—Kadohata delves deep into the soul of her protagonist while making a faraway place and the stark consequences of war seem very near. Y’Tin’s inner conflicts and changing perception of the world will haunt readers. Ages 10–up. (Jan.)
VOYA - Teri S. Lesesne
Y'Tin has longed to be an elephant handler since the first time he touched one of the elephants kept by his village. When he is finally given charge of Lady, Y'Tin is thrilled. But his community in Vietnam is threatened by the armies of North Vietnam after the U.S. forces withdraw in 1975. His village is attacked, and those who do not escape are rounded up. Y'Tin is certain they will all be murdered. He and some others escape and lead the elephants deep into the jungle in search of their fellow villagers who fled before the invading army. There is danger in the jungle as well, and Y'Tin hopes that he and the elephants will survive and that he will be reunited with his family. Kadohota brings to life the plight of the Montagnards, the indigenous people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The villagers often helped the American army with missions that involved tracking through dense jungle. In return, the army promised to come to their aid should they be attacked. Unfortunately they did not follow through on this pledge, and many Montagnards lost their lives fighting during the war. An author's note discusses the fact and fiction of this historical novel and gives readers more information on a population of Vietnamese people who face extinction. Middle school students will enjoy not only the story's historic aspects but also the action adventure of Y'Tin's flight into the jungle. Reviewer: Teri S. Lesesne
Kirkus Reviews
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)
From the Publisher
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

* Newbery Medalist Kadohata (Kira-Kira) shows that truth has as many shades of gray as an elephant in this emotionally taut survival story, set in war-torn South Vietnam. After American troops leave his village, Y’Tin, his family, and his neighbors are left to fend off their enemies themselves. But Y’Tin’s mind isn’t on war. It’s on his pet elephant, Lady, and his dreams of opening an elephant-training school. His hopes vanish when North Vietnamese soldiers devastate his small village (Y’Tin helps dig a mass grave at one point). Y’Tin manages to escape into the jungle with a friend, where he reunites with Lady, but separated from family and friends, his thoughts grow dark. As the days go by, he becomes angrier and less trusting, wondering “if he would ever feel safe again or if safety was gone from his life forever.” Illustrating the wisdom of Y’Tin’s father’s words—“The jungle changes a man”—Kadohata delves deep into the soul of her protagonist while making a faraway place and the stark consequences of war seem very near. Y’Tin’s inner conflicts and changing perception of the world will haunt readers. Ages 10–up. (Jan.) –Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW

Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
The story begins in 1973 in a village in Vietnam. The Americans will soon be leaving as the Paris Peace Accord has been signed, but conflict continues between South Vietnam and advancing North Vietnamese troops. Y'Tim's family lives in the remote highlands of South Vietnam fairly removed up to this time from active conflict. Y'Tim's father, however, has been active as a guide for the Americans making the village vulnerable. Y'Tim is thirteen and his only desire is to be the best elephant handler in the surrounding area. Although he attends school, he is not as interested as his parents wish he was. His friend, Tomas is training Y'Tim to be a good handler, but Y'Tim can never be as firm with Lady, his elephant, as Tomas demands. Two years pass and North Vietnamese troops overrun Y'Tim's village. The women, children, and elders run deep into the jungle to hide but all of the men and boys are taken prisoner. Y'Tim and two friends eventually escape the harsh treatment and try to find their families and the elephants that they care so much about. After many close calls and conflicts among themselves, they find the elephants but eventually become separated from each other. Y'Tim longs for his family but makes the decision to leave the jungle and his elephant and search for a new life in the city. The unsatisfying ending seems out of character for Y'Tim but as his father had often said, "War changes everything." Some knowledge of the Vietnam War will add to the reader's understanding. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—All Y'Tin, 13, ever wanted was to be an elephant trainer, and when he was 11, he became the youngest handler ever in his village. His life revolves around Lady and the other elephants in their small herd. But this is Vietnam in 1975 and the North Vietnamese are a threat to the Dega people of the Central Highlands now that the American forces are gone. The feared attack comes and half the village, including Y'Tin, is captured. He witnesses the murder of a fellow elephant keeper and, when he is ordered to help dig a mass grave, he knows escape is his only hope. When the chance comes, he and his friend Y'Juen slip into the jungle. They manage to find Lady and the other elephants, but the stress, fear, and anxiety about the war never leave Y'Tin. Even when he is reunited with his family, he cannot let go of the constant strain and despair for the future. When he is sent into the jungle to track down a lost Y'Juen, he spends a desperate night in fear. At this point, he decides the best thing is to try and make it to Thailand to find his future as an elephant trainer. Like a child in any war, Y'Tin has to cope with a situation that he doesn't understand, one that has completely overturned his life. Kadohata depicts the questions, fears, confusion, and apprehension skillfully. Y'Tin is a thoughtful young man searching for clear answers where there are none.—Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781442429192
Publisher:
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
11/01/2011
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
112,628
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

1973, Central Highlands, South Vietnam

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.

Y’Tin stood just in back and to the side of Tomas. Sometimes Tomas got annoyed at how closely Y’Tin stood, but Y’Tin didn’t want to miss anything. On the other hand, Y’Tin didn’t want to annoy Tomas too much or he might refuse to train Y’Tin further. At fourteen Tomas Knul was the youngest elephant handler ever in the village, but Y’Tin hoped to beat that record. Y’Tin was only eleven, but he was confident that he would be a fine elephant handler someday.

“Stand back,” Tomas snapped. “Or I won’t let you work with the elephants today.”

Y’Tin dutifully stepped back. He did whatever Tomas told him to do. There were other kids who hung around the elephants, but Y’Tin was the one Tomas had chosen to train. Tomas had assured him that when the time was right, Y’Tin would become Lady’s handler. Y’Tin didn’t want him to change his mind.

One of the kids who hung around got too close, and Y’Tin snapped, “Stand back,” just as Tomas had snapped to him.

Tomas glanced at Y’Tin. “I was thinking I’d let you ride her into the village today. I’ll walk beside you. Do you think you’re ready?”

“I’m ready,” Y’Tin said. He had been ready for months. He patted Lady’s side; she ignored him.

Tomas looked at him thoughtfully. “I think you want to be an elephant handler even more than I once did.”

“Sure thing,” Y’Tin said in English. He had learned that from one of the American Special Forces soldiers his father knew. The Americans had many words for “yes.” “Sure,” “okay,” “right,” “affirmative,” “absolutely,” “yeah,” “check,” “Roger that,” and “sure do, tennis shoe” came immediately to mind.

Y’Tin walked around to Lady’s trunk to have a talk with her. “I’m going to ride you in today, Lady. You need to behave yourself.”

As if in answer, Lady pushed him to the ground with her trunk. And she didn’t let him up. It was embarrassing. He tried to get away, but Lady was too strong. “Tomas,” he said. “Uh, can you help me?”

Tomas rolled his eyes. “Lady!” he said sharply, and Lady let Y’Tin up. “You’ve got to be firmer with her,” Tomas scolded Y’Tin. “Use your hook to keep her in line.”

“But I want her to like me.”

“You want her to respect you. Now help get those logs attached to her rope.” Y’Tin and one of the Buonya boys tied logs to the end of the rope attached to Lady’s harness. She would haul the logs to the building site.

When the logs were secure, Y’Tin said, “Muk, Lady.” But she refused to kneel. “Muk!” He noticed Tomas looking at him. “Muk!” he said again. Y’Tin could feel his face growing hot. He took his stick with the hook and poked her with it. She still didn’t respond.

“Lady, muk,” Tomas said mildly, and she immediately knelt.

Y’Tin climbed aboard her, his legs straddling her back. “Lady, up,” Y’Tin said, and for once she listened.

“Lady, nao,” Tomas said, and she calmly followed him, dragging the three huge logs behind her.

Y’Tin felt a rush of happiness. When they reached the gate to the village, he sat up with his chest sticking out proudly. Lady followed Tomas to the site where the new longhouse would be built. The Buonyas were one of the biggest clans in the village, so they were planning a house one hundred meters long. That translated to a lot of logs.

And so it went for the rest of the afternoon, with Lady and Y’Tin going back and forth from the jungle to the site. At one point Lady actually knelt when he told her to. It was just about the best day of Y’Tin’s life.

That night as he lay in his family’s room in the clan’s longhouse, the others slept while he stayed up going over and over the whole afternoon. He could see Lady clearly when he closed his eyes. He felt giddy. Everyone kept saying that he was too young to know what his future held, but he knew as well as he knew anything that he would spend his life as an elephant handler. Still, his father had told him to always think about “the other hand.” So, on the other hand, he had been working with Lady for many months now and he didn’t seem to be making much headway with her. Today when she knelt and stood up on command were the first times she had ever listened to him.

Tomas always warned him not to become too friendly with her or she wouldn’t respect him. He liked to remind Y’Tin of the time a few years ago when Lady went into a rage for some mysterious reason. Y’Tin still remembered the huge gap in the fence that she had stampeded.

Y’Tin’s father was sleeping fitfully, mumbling about the Americans. His father had a lot on his mind lately. He worked with the American Special Forces and had been talking to Y’Tin’s mother about the possibility of becoming a Christian. He hadn’t made any decisions about it yet. He often took a long time to make a decision. For instance, it had taken him nearly two years to allow Y’Tin to work with the elephants, and it had taken him a year to decide to work with the Americans.

So far the remoteness of the village had saved it from the worst of what the Americans called the Vietnam War and what his father called the American War. Y’Tin hoped the war would be over by the time he was grown. North and South Vietnam had been fighting since well before Y’Tin was born. The Americans fought with the South.

All his father thought about was the war, and all Y’Tin thought about was elephants. Y’Tin knew he was different from the other boys in that he did not want to be a farmer. That’s why his parents worried about him so much. There was just one thing that he wanted: to be an elephant handler. Meanwhile, Y’Tin did so poorly in school that his parents were disappointed in him. His older sister, H’Juaih, got highest marks. He was proud of her, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be like her.

“Y’Tin?” his mother called out from the darkness.

“Yes, Ami.”

“I knew you were still awake.”

And, indeed, she often did know when he was awake, though he didn’t make a sound. He never knew whether she was awake or sleeping. Either way, she was silent.

“Are you daydreaming again?”

He didn’t answer.

“If you spent as much time on your homework as you do on your daydreaming, your grades would be the same as H’Juaih’s.”

“Ami, I was just thinking. That’s different from daydreaming.”

“How is it different?” his mother responded.

“Daydreaming is thinking about things that aren’t true yet. Thinking is when you ponder matters that are already true.”

She didn’t answer, and he knew he had won the argument. On the other hand, maybe she just stopped talking because she was tired. He was tired also. He closed his eyes and watched Lady until he fell asleep.

© 2010 Cynthia Kadohata

Meet the Author

Cynthia Kadohata is the author of the Newbery Medal–winning book Kira-Kira, the National Book Award winner The Thing About Luck, the Jane Addams Peace Award and Pen USA Award winner Weedflower, Cracker!, Outside Beauty, A Million Shades of Gray, and several critically acclaimed adult novels, including The Floating World. She lives with her son and dog in West Covina, California.

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A Million Shades of Gray 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Dancegirl1 More than 1 year ago
This was a good book and I read it to do a report on it. The only thing that I didn't like was how gory some things in the book were. Dead bodies? FInding a dead humans ear? Screams in the night? Shootings? Fights? Plus, the theme wasn't clear and things came out of no where. In the short range of 1 page, Y'Tin goes from home to being with the soldiers and Lady comes out of no where in the forest. Also, Y'Tin makes a split second desicion at the end of the book. Some parts were good, and other parts not so much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the whole book but the end was heartbreaking.I almost cried at the end,but over all one of my favorite books!It is a must read for anyone and everyone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My 12-year-old son read this for a school project, and he loved it! He is not a reader by nature, and to see him reading a book and actually enjoying it was wonderful. When the following year in school, he needed to choose a book for a different project, this is the book he chose. I bought it for the Nook because he liked it so much. I may have to read it myself!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Question....... How much pages dose this book have THANKS FOR READING THIS IS A SERIOUS QUESTION PLEASE DONT NOT REASPON BECAUSE YOU DONT THINK IM SERIOUS
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bout the boy who has been held and excaped from enimies. Runs away to find his elephant ans his family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To be honest, I am really finding it difficult to read this book. If the author is really going to use such simple, choppy, boring sentences then at least make it so that Y'Tin is the narrator. I find myself shaking my head at some of these sentences. Can you maybe be more discriptive and exciting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My teacher had me read this while on a four night five day school field trip. I loved the book, but i wouldn't read it again. One to three of my friends read the book, they said it was good but that the end was strange. Over all id say get the free sample a see if you like the begining befoe buying the book. The plot makes sense by the third chapter.
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YourLibrarian More than 1 year ago
Set in the mid-'70s, this historical novel deals with the aftermath of the Vietnam War for the Dega people, a group of tribesman that supported the Americans during what we know as the Vietnam War. The Dega people knew this same war as the American War. The main character is Y'Tin, a thirteen year old boy. He is assigned the all-important task of caring for Lady, one of the tribe's three elephants, and caring for Lady is his focus and his passion. Life in his village is interrupted when the North Vietnamese arrive and seek revenge upon the villagers for their past support of the Americans. Half of the village is killed and the other half has found shelter in refugee camps in the jungle. Y-Tin recognizes the truth in the statements that "war changes things" and that a "jungle changes a man". Y-Tin and his friends struggle to stay alive and are faced with some horrific decisions. Despite dealing directly with the horrors of war, this book has a hopeful tone and the main character makes good choices. This book provides a good jumping off point for many discussions such as what is a country's obligation in terms of protecting a people when the country withdraws from war and what importance should education have for people in remote places of the world. The narration done by Keith Nobbs is top notch. Because this book deals with violence (brains splattering, mass executions and singular execution-style killings) it is appropriate for grades 6 and up. This book is on several mock Newbery prize lists - which means that librarians are considering it to be one of the best new books of 2010.
Kaitlin Besselman More than 1 year ago
good hated the end but the begining and middle was good