A Million Shades of Grey [Cynthia Kadohata]

Cynthia Kadohata (2010)
Simon & Schuster
Paperback, 2010
Children Fiction
Times Travel – SGD13.50

“The next morning he woke up before sunrise. The green shades of the jungle seemed gray in the dim light. A million shades of gray, just like the hide of an elephant.” (Page 131)

Tin is the youngest elephant handler in his village and he dreams to be an elephant trainer. On many occasions he persuades his parents seriously and playfully to let him drop school instead. Live in the village suddenly changed as the war finally reached them and Viet Cong soldiers occupied the village. Tin got separated from his family and was held captive with others who didn’t get the chance to flee.

There are good messages from the novel that young readers could get easily despite the slow pace and somewhat distort theme. Historical reference about the Vietnam war is also fascinating to read, but for that, further read is needed.

Tin and his friends have to escape from the soldiers, run to the jungle, keep themselves and their elephants save while trying to follow tracks of their families who left just in time before the soldiers came.

The author highlighted several times in written and through incidents, that the jungle changes people. Tin learned this the hard way, although his father has told about this many times. Living in the jungle wakes up the survival instinct of every human being, and it could mean sacrificing your own friends. Life is already hard when the war entered his village and his family separated, now Tin must also deal with unfriendly friends, and must decide what to do with his elephant. There many problems that Tin must deal with, and they become part of the new Tin, who’s more responsible, more mature in way of thinking.

While I enjoyed the light reading, the slow pace is quite irritating. I initially thought the story is about a boy and his elephant. But as my reading progressed, the theme became wider with a lot of potential and possibilities, and I actually expect more before being abruptly ended. At first, the focus of the novel is on Tin and his elephant as the first few chapters described. When the village was occupied by Viet Cong, the focus is also shifted to Tin and his affections for his family and friends.

I’ve read the other book by Kadohata (Kira-kira), and I think the other book is better because it can stir emotions. While this one has a good theme, I believe it could go much deeper in stories and plots.


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