A Million Shades of Gray
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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.
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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... see more
Before sunup, Y’Tin woke to hear his mother shaking his father awake. “Sergeant Shepard wants to talk to you,” she told him in a low voice.
“What?” Ama said sleepily. Y’Tin heard his father rustling, probably sitting up.
“Sergeant Shepard,” his mother repeated.
Y’Tin sat up too. “Are you going on a mission, Ama?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” his father said. “I’ll find out from Shepard. You go back to sleep.”
Instead, Y’Tin stood up. “Can I come if you go on a mission?... see more
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Reading Group Guide
Discuss Y’Tin’s attitude toward school. Why is his mother so determined that he complete his education? Cite evidence that Y’Tin is willing to learn in spite of his rebellion against school. When the North Vietnamese become a threat to the Rhade tribe, Y’Tin’s family is forced to leave the village. Explain why Y’Tin suddenly wants to go to school when he no longer has to.
Y’Tin spends a lot of time daydreaming and thinking. He explains the difference to his mother: “Daydreaming is thinking about things that aren’t true yet. Thinking is when you ponder matters that are already true.” What “truth” does Y’Tin ponder the most? Which “truth” hurts the most? Debate whether Y’Tin’s daydreams come true. Discuss Lady’s role in helping Y’Tin realize his dream.
Y’Tin says that next to his father, Tomas is the man that he most admires. What is it about Tomas that Y’Tin admires? What causes Tomas to turn on Y’Tin? How does this change Y’Tin’s admiration for Tomas? When do Tomas and Y’Juen become “we,” casting Y’Tin aside? Y’Tin’s father has always told him that the jungle changes a man. Debate whether it’s the jungle that changes Tomas and Y’Juen or something else.
Y’Tin thinks a lot about betrayal. Debate whether the Rhade feel betrayed b see more