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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata

I reviewed this author's book, Cracker, so I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed this story quite a bit.

We're back in Vietnam, and this time, we are seeing the war from the point-of-view of Y'Tin, an adolescent Vietnamese boy from the Rhade tribe. He is an apprentice elephant-trainer, and he and his tribe have a close devotion to the elephants that work for them.

The Rhade tribe is a rural tribe who helped the American Special Forces during the Vietnam war. This tells the story of how Y'Tin's village lived somewhat isolated from the fighting while helping Americans track through the Vietnamese jungle. Sadly, it tells how the Americans promised to come back if the North Vietnamese violated the peace treaty and the Rhade had to come to terms with the fact that that promise would not be fulfilled.

Of course, the North Vietnamese did violate the treaty, and they exacted terrible retribution on these people, and the author thankfully tells the story honestly and without beating the drum for a particular agenda.

Be aware that while written for a younger audience (not adults), you may want to consider the age and sensitivity level of your tween. Teens should have no problem, Teens should have no problem, but being as this is war, it is heavy. When the North Vietnamese army invades his village, Y'Tin is tortured by being hung by his feet upside-down. It is a light intro. to torture (if such a thing exists) as it does not get heavy into painful detail, it just gives a general description. Later, Y'Tin helps to dig a mass grave which he escapes but "popping sounds in the night" reveal its purpose. When he goes back to check on his village, he digs enough to encounter a human ear. At this point, he covers it up and flees back into the jungle.

Y'Tin has a respectful and admirable relationship with his father. Respect for authority is portrayed positively. Y'Tin's father is a thoughtful and moral man who weighs sides to importannt issues and reasons them out. He is considering converting to Christianity. All other religious references are an accurate (I trust the author's research) portrayal of the rural tribes' belief: spirits reside in all things, and people have 3 distinct spirits. These spirits need sacrifice for appeasement.

There is also a mention of divorce for Y'Tin's aunt that is matter-of-fact and a seemingly casual acceptance.

The post-script to the book included research information that did not lend itself to the story, and this was fascinating. We learn more about the Rhade, including the fact that right near the Special Forces headquarters here in the U.S., soldiers bought land for many members of these Vietnamese tribes who came here after the war. They are faring much better here, unfortunately, than they are even today in Vietnam.


Historical Fiction: Vietnam War; 1950's; 1960's; 1970's


Anonymous,  December 18, 2011 at 6:24 AM  

i just read this book for a book report but i loved the author. cynthia kadohata. i ove her work

Anonymous,  January 23, 2012 at 12:13 PM  

I love the book A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata I did a book report on it. I am looking forward to reading Weedflower.

Anonymous,  February 7, 2012 at 3:07 PM  

I'm also reading it for a report. ;)

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