A Million Shades of Gray

Cynthia Kadohata

Y'Tin, the main character in this historical fiction novel, is only thirteen years old, but he already knows what he wants to do with his life: train elephants.  He is part of the Rhade tribe, living in a village in Vietnam in the 1970s.  People in his village use elephants for all kinds of work - including transportation and moving heavy items like logs -- and Y'Tin is the youngest person in his village to become a trainer, responsible for Lady, his own elephant. But these are difficult times for Y'Tin's village.  The war with North Vietnam is raging.  Y'Tin's father, and other men in the village, are helping the American Special Forces fight North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.  But then the Americans leave, and the North Vietnamese are still trying to take over South Vietnam.  Inevitably, because of their aid to the Americans, Y'Tin's village is targeted and destroyed.  Y'Tin is captured and after escaping must find his way through the treacherous jungle to find what might be left of his family.  This story is a sweet story of growing up, of adolescent friendship, and of the deep relationship Y'Tin has with his elephant. It's also a fascinating look into a small tribe in Vietnam and the effects that the Vietnam War had on the indigenous people.  Although this story does not follow Y'Tin, as he becomes a refugee, the story gives the reader a good look at why people, who never intend to leave their homes, do so, and a glimpse at how heart-breaking that process is. 

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