Learn more about CCRLS
Reading recommendations from Novelist
Online learning resources
Cover image for A million shades of gray
A million shades of gray
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ©2010.
Physical Description:
216 pages ; 21 cm
In 1975 after American troops pull out of Vietnam, a thirteen-year-old boy and his beloved elephant escape into the jungle when the Viet Cong attack his village.
Reading Level:
010 up.

Middle School.

700 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader 4.9.

Reading Counts! 4.3.

Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.9 6.0 135202.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 4.3 12 Quiz: 48136.


Call Number
J Kadohata, C.

On Order



A boy and his elephant escape into the jungle when the Viet Cong attack his village immediately after the Vietnam war.

Author Notes

Cynthia Kadohata was born on July 2, 1956. She is a Japanese American author of children's books. Kadohata won the Newbery Medal in 2005 for her title, Kira-Kira. She also won a PEN award in 2006 for Weedflower and in 2013 she won the U.S. National Book Award for The Thing About Luck.

Kadohata was born in Chicago, Illinois, and was a high school drop out. She attained a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and went on to attend graduate programs at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-9-All Y'Tin, 13, ever wanted was to be an elephant trainer, and when he was 11, he became the youngest handler ever in his village. His life revolves around Lady and the other elephants in their small herd. But this is Vietnam in 1975 and the North Vietnamese are a threat to the Dega people of the Central Highlands now that the American forces are gone. The feared attack comes and half the village, including Y'Tin, is captured. He witnesses the murder of a fellow elephant keeper and, when he is ordered to help dig a mass grave, he knows escape is his only hope. When the chance comes, he and his friend Y'Juen slip into the jungle. They manage to find Lady and the other elephants, but the stress, fear, and anxiety about the war never leave Y'Tin. Even when he is reunited with his family, he cannot let go of the constant strain and despair for the future. When he is sent into the jungle to track down a lost Y'Juen, he spends a desperate night in fear. At this point, he decides the best thing is to try and make it to Thailand to find his future as an elephant trainer. Like a child in any war, Y'Tin has to cope with a situation that he doesn't understand, one that has completely overturned his life. Kadohata depicts the questions, fears, confusion, and apprehension skillfully. Y'Tin is a thoughtful young man searching for clear answers where there are none.-Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 stark consequences of war seem very near. Y'Tin's inner conflicts and changing perception of the world will haunt readers. Ages 10-up. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

A thirteen-year-old Vietnamese boy aspires to be an elephant handler, but his ambition is thwarted by civil strife following the Vietnam War. He escapes from the North Vietnamese Army and reunites with his family and friends, but not before realizing that war has irrevocably changed his life. Kadohata successfully returns to themes explored in Kira-Kira and Weedflower. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

War has never been far from Y'Tin's life. He'd grown fond of the jovial American soldiers his father had helped over the years, and now, in 1973, the North Vietnamese army is menacing South Vietnameven his isolated Montagnard village. Still, "[a]ll his father thought about was the war, and all Y'Tin thought about was elephants." While it's true that Y'Tin, a matter-of-fact 13-year-old with an easy confidence, obsesses about Lady, his hardworking elephant charge, she becomes only one of his many concerns. In a clear-as-a-bell third-person voice, with warmth and humor, Kadohata fully rounds out the character of Y'Tinthe way he loves and thinks, often measuring his own responses to the world with those of his ever-deliberating, never-wrong father. As he and Lady escape from the massacre that kills half the village, Y'Tin sees that between right and wrong are "a million shades of gray," like the elephant's hide, like the jungle in the dim light. A fascinating window into postVietnam War history and a wonderfully intimate character study. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Growing up in a remote Dega village in South Vietnam, Y'Tin is as close with his beloved elephant, Lady, as he is with his father, who works with the American Special Forces. After the Americans leave, Y'Tin, 13, flees the Vietcong massacre of his village and tries to find his family and friends while surviving in the jungle and caring for Lady. For a story so packed with action, this novel reads very slowly. Kadohata has done her research--including interviews with Dega refugees in North Carolina--but unlike her spare Newbery winner, Kira-Kira (2004), the detail here sometimes drowns the drama. But the boy's viewpoint does open up political history that is seldom explored from this perspective in books for youth (Why did Y'Tin's father join the Americans? Why did the Americans abandon the Vietnamese?), and teen readers will be caught by the jungle adventure and the village conflict, as well as by Y'Tin's personal battles with friends and enemies and his playful bond with Lady.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2009 Booklist