Friday, February 25, 2011

A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata

Cynthia Kadohata won a Newbery Medal for her book Kira-Kira. I must admit, it was my least favorite Newbery winner of the last decade, but when I saw this book on the shelf, I decided to give Kadohata another try. This book is set in Vietnam during the end of the American involvement there and afterward. The main character, Y'Tin lives in a small peaceful village in the dense jungle. Y'Tin loves elephants and becomes the youngest elephant handler the village has ever had. All he wants is to work with his elephant, Lady, until she dies of old age, and then become a trainer for other elephant handlers. After the Americans leave Vietnam, the Viet Cong a burn the village and execute half of its inhabitants. Y'Tin escapes with two other elephant handlers and they flee into the jungle. Y'Tin has to decide whether to stay with his beloved elephant, or join the freedom fighters who are opposing the Viet Cong. Kadohata thoroughly transports the reader into Y'Tin's life and world. All of the characters in the book are superbly developed and honestly portrayed. The descriptions of life in Vietnam, and the handling of the elephants are amazing. The only problem is that the story is a major downer. Y'Tin's life is shattered about half way through the book, and after that everything he encounters goes wrong for him. As he got more and more depressed and disillusioned, so did I, until by the end I could hardly wait for the book to be over so I could be happy again. I guess that I why I am not a huge Historical Fiction reader. Almost all Historical Fiction is depressing. If I could read books dispassionately, I think I would enjoy them more, but if I could read books dispassionately, maybe I would have never ended up as a librarian.

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