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A Million Shades of Gray [Hardcover]

Cynthia Kadohata

Price: £10.62 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

5 Jan 2010
Tin is known throughout his Vietnam village as being brave, possessing the calm and courage needed to expertly train wild elephants. But when American troops-who Tin's tribe, the Dega, have been helping-pull out of the Vietnam War and his village is occupied by Viet Cong forces seeking revenge, twelve-year-old Tin watches his life change in a million terrible ways. His bravery is put to a new test: He must choose between staying captive or saving his elephant's life by fleeing into the dangerous depths of the jungle. At once heartbreaking and full of hope, A Million Shades of Gray brings listeners close to a world few know about-and no one will ever forget.
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books; 1 edition (5 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416918833
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416918837
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.5 x 2.1 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,492,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


* 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 s --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not enjoyable, so-so writing, lot of potential but missed the mark 1 Mar 2010
By HeatherHH - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is the story of a young teenage boy name T'Yin who is the youngest elephant trainer in his village in the Vietnam jungle. American troops have withdrawn from the Vietnam War, and T'Yin's village, from which many of the men helped the American Special Forces, is now vulnerable to attack from the North Vietnamese. T'Yin ends up fleeing into the jungle with his elephant, and has to decide whether to stay and resist or establish a new life elsewhere.

This book had a lot of potential, but unfortunately, I did not find it to be very engaging. I enjoyed the first 30 pages of this book, introducing T'Yin and his elephant, Lady, but it was downhill from there. The elephant became rather peripheral to the storyline, there, but not very important, and I think that would be one of the main appeals for many readers. Lady also didn't really come to life and didn't seem to have much personality to her.

I felt the story, as short as it is, just seemed to drag on, and the writing was so dry and matter-of-fact and held me at a distance. T'Yin was held captive, and running through the jungle, and bickering with older boys, and making major life decisions, and I cared more about getting through the book than about what happened to his character. I also felt the writing was a bit abrupt at times. T'Yin has an exceedingly convenient reunion with his elephant; she appears unexpectedly out of nowhere at a key moment. And, the ending of the story seemed rather abrupt to me. All of a sudden, T'Yin comes to his monumental decision and has his strong feeling of security in what the future holds (for no apparent reason), and the book is over.

Finally, I also didn't like the fact that T'Yin sees the soul of a dead young man twice, and not in a dream sequence or anything like that, but in broad daylight matter-of-factly like it really happened.

I think a book for young people aimed at this time period from the side of the Vietnamese is a wonderful idea, but I do not feel this book lived up to its potential. It's main fault is that it does not do well drawing the reader in and the reader ends up at an emotional remove.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful 11 July 2010
By J.Prather - Published on
This is the powerful story of Y'Tin, a 13 year old boy living in the mountain regions of Vietnam and what happens to him following the American withdrawal. The story is told by Y'Tin, and the author has achieved a stunningly authentic voice for him. We see his fear, his courage, and his sometimes childish, sometimes wise thoughts about war, his family, and his beloved elephant. His devotion to his elephant runs throughout the story, and his faith in his future with her despite the horrific things happening around him is beautiful and sad in it's child-like naivete.

This is a sometimes graphic, brutal story that is best suited for middle school and above. The images of a mass grave and ruthless murder as seen through the eyes of a child are vividly portrayed. Y'Tin's struggle with the realization that the American's were not coming back to help his village was hard for me to read. This is a part of the Vietnam story that I had conveniently forgotten about, so I am very glad that the author is helping to keep it alive for the next generation. I hope teachers latch on to this book as I truly think it could be very effective while teaching about the Vietnam war period.

Other reviewers have commented on the child like writing style as being a draw back to the book's appeal to teens. I feel that any teen who picks this up will be drawn in by it. The style of writing is an integral part of Y'Tin's character and helps to serve as a counterpoint to the horrific events of the book. My congratulations to the author for once again producing such an important novel that will have lasting impact. A solid choice for teens age 12 and up, as well as any adult fan of historical fiction. The author's end notes add much to the story and will only serve to open up even more discussion.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kadohata...vividly brings immediacy to a conflict that too many people have forgotten about or never really knew 1 Feb 2010
By KidsReads - Published on
For many Americans, no matter their age, the Vietnam War has receded into distant memory or even the realm of myth. Outside of the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial and dwindling accounts in films and books, this 1960s and '70s-era war has been subsumed by more recent conflicts.

Even for Americans who remember the war, their knowledge of it probably ceases at the point when the U.S. troops withdrew from what seemed an increasingly hopeless and unpopular situation. But what happened to the South Vietnamese people who were left behind when the Americans withdrew to cut their own losses? Cynthia Kadohata explores this devastating question in A MILLION SHADES OF GRAY.

Thirteen-year-old Y'Tin has one passion: elephants. Y'Tin is an expert elephant trainer, the youngest handler in his village. He is not so enthusiastic about school, though --- he would rather spend his energies training his beloved elephant, Lady, with whom he has a close, intuitive relationship, without the violence and mistrust that characterizes some other handlers' treatment of their animals. Y'Tin's goal is to open his own school someday --- an elephant training school, that is, the first of its kind in Vietnam.

But history might have its own plans for Y'Tin. His Dega tribe has long had a relationship with the American troops fighting the North Vietnamese --- many men like Y'Tin's own father have assisted the American Special Forces in exchange for a promise that the Americans will always defend the Dega if the North Vietnamese break their treaty agreement and attack these mountain-dwelling South Vietnamese people.

In the wake of the American withdrawal, however, the U.S. troops seem to have forgotten about their promise to the Dega. And when the North Vietnamese attack Y'Tin's home, nearly half of the villagers are killed, and many others --- including Y'Tin --- are captured, forced to perform manual labor (including digging mass graves) at penalty of death.

In Cynthia Kadohata's well-researched coming-of-age story, Y'Tin matures from an impetuous boy into a less trusting, more cautious, but still goal-oriented young man. At the end of the novel, his future is not quite what he had imagined, but he is still able to find hope despite the horrific things he has seen and done. Kadohata pulls no punches in her depiction of war. In her compassionate portrayal of Y'Tin and his people, she vividly brings immediacy to a conflict that too many people have forgotten about or never really knew.

--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Million Shades of Grey 19 May 2011
A Kid's Review - Published on
A Million Shades of Grey is a great book which is weird coming from a person who normally reads Harry Potter type of books. It's about a boy and his elephant in the middle of a war. I probably like it because it has lots of action and drama. The humor in the book is JuJubee who is the boy's younger sister (who at one point shoves her hand up his nose. This book is good for people who like hearing about other people's lives and also for people who like war-type suspense.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richie's Picks A MILLION SHADES OF GRAY 22 April 2010
By Richie Partington - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"He lay on his back as the first mtu appeared in the sky, sparkling shyly. The war was coming just like the mtu came, barely sparkling at first and then glowing stronger and stronger. And then as darkness came, all you could see were the mtu. He listened to the leaves in the jungle rustling with the wind. He loved the sound suddenly. He loved the wind on his face. He loved lying on the ground quietly. Tomas, Y'Siu, and Y'Tin liked to lie on the ground near the elephants because it felt risky but also comforting. The elephants could step on them -- but they wouldn't. That was elephants for you."
Over the past month, I've been working on a research project requiring the retrieval of vast quantities of information -- bibliographic; biographic; educational philosophy and state standards-related stuff; cultural trivia; song lyrics; and more. I am totally in my glory because being knowledgeable of, comfortable with, and practiced at tapping into the vast array of Internet and online database tools,and online word processing tools, available in the twenty-first century means being able to achieve in a few moments what a dozen years ago would have required months of time and travel and reading. Much of what I'm accomplishing in a just few keystrokes simply would not have been possible to accomplish in the past. It gives me such a rush -- on a daily basis -- to be able to ride the waves of these radical, world-changing, technological advances.

I took a bus trip in to Manhattan the other day. Much of the route we traveled consisted of six-, eight-, and ten- lane highways that did not exist in any form when I was a young child here on Long Island in the early Sixties. Back then, I grew up flying kites in cow pastures that turned to housing developments almost two generations ago. It is this sort of progress that I have to accept as being the way of our world. I mean, the population boom that instigated those roads and the millions of new homes that have been built on Long Island and everywhere else in my lifetime are the result of you and I -- along with billions of other people -- being born worldwide.

"We have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo

The downside of the manner in which the world has radically evolved over the course of my lifetime is that the very ability of the planet to support life is now being threatened. While the true degree and growth of that threat may be open to debate, there is no question that the world's largest and most glorious mammals have been on the firing line, relentlessly falling victim to the insatiable global pressures of human population growth and the related agricultural development and resource exploitation.

And so it is, that upon reading A MILLION SHADES OF GRAY, a hauntingly brutal piece of historical fiction set in Vietnam in the mid-Seventies, it is not only the slaughter of hundreds of mountain tribal people that leaves me aching. It is, even more so, the unknown fate of the three elephants that we come to know so intimately -- along with their three young keepers -- that has me sitting here wondering what else I could/should be doing to belatedly help mitigate the damage, if it is not already far too late.

You tell me what kind of half-assed, second-rate planet this will be when elephants and rhinoceroses, whales and polar bears, lions and snow leopards, have all gone the way of the dinosaurs?

When we first meet him, Y'Tin is eleven, hoping to become the youngest elephant trainer that his isolated mountain tribe has ever had. It is 1973 and his people do not yet know it, but the Americans are on the verge of signing the Paris Accords and leaving. This is a problem for the tribe because Y'Tin's father is among a number of men there to have repeatedly undertaken military-related missions for the Americans. In the long run, once the Americans are gone and the North inexorably moves south, there will be a deadly price to pay. After the opening chapters, the story moves to 1975, when that price is on the verge of being exacted and Y'Ting has achieved his dream.

Y'Tin ends up moving back and forth between bearing witness to and barely escaping the atrocities that come to pass, and being on the run in the jungle with the other two boys while training and caring for Lady, the elephant out of the domesticated trio with whom he has been entrusted.

I am happy that the story ends with boy and the elephant both still alive. But that is of small comfort as I search sites for information on Asian elephants. Some estimate that in 1900 there were more than a million Asian elephants in the wild. That number is now down below 40,000, including a few dozen left in the wild in Vietnam.

"Y'Tin ran right toward Lady. When Lady spotted him, she trotted over, picked him up with her trunk, threw him to the ground, and bonked him on the head. Then her trunk swayed back and forth the way it did when she was happy."

A MILLION SHADES OF GRAY is an important tale in its telling the little-known story of the Montagnard tribal people amidst the Vietnam War (which, there, was called the American War). But what will stay with me is the story of the boy who is justifiably filled with pride and joy for his having the uncanny ability to communicate with and to be as one with such a beautiful and powerful creature, without the need for employing force or punishment.
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