A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata

Vietnam 1973. What  Y’Tin wants  in life is to be an elephant handler. But not just a handler,  the best handler in his village. He loves his elephant, Lady, and his deep devotion and attachment to her is makes him want to spend all his time with her. Though the Vietnam War has been fought in his country, and his father worked for the American Special Forces Y’Tin has had a peaceful life in his village. However, it changes suddenly with the arrival of fighters from the north who overtake his village. Everything Y’Tin thought his life was about changes.

Set in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1973 – 1975 this story is set in the later stages of the Vietnam War, after the United States has withdrawn and  the south of Vietnam is left to defend itself against the onslaught from the north. Cynthia Kadohata paints the details of the lives of  the Dega people of the Central Highlands  clearly and draws the reader into the joys and sadness of village life. The world of a teenage boy and his elephant comes to life in her descriptions of school, family, war.

Cynthia Kodahata weaves a story that is brutally real and engrossing. Her writing draws you in and through her words you are able to discover the world of the Highland people of Vietnam. She spares no one in setting out her story, and the American role in the later stages of the war aren’t overlooked. She doesn’t skimp on the details of the brutality of war and its impact on people, and has clearly researched the topic thoroughly. I found myself wondering several times if the content was too much for the younger reader, as the details of conflict are clearly described. However, that is what makes the books so powerful. It is a fictionalized account of what happened, and serves as a lesson to younger readers who don’t know the history, or older readers who have forgotten.

This is great writing, and it is no wonder that Cynthia Kadohata is an award-winning writer. An excellent, but sobering read.

by Guest blogger M.O.M.