Cynthia Kadohata, who won the top children’s book honor, the Newbery Medal, in 2005 for her debut middle-grade title, Kira-Kira, returns with a heartbreaking story about a young Vietnamese boy and his special relationship with the elephant in his charge.
High in the central highlands of war-torn Vietnam, Y’Tin Eban wants nothing more in life than to train elephants. He has a special gift with the gentle giants, but is most attached to Lady who provides him with his greatest joys. Y’Tin’s family is part of the peaceful indigenous tribe, the Dega, but even they cannot escape the tragedies of civil war.
Y’Tin’s father works with the American Special Forces, hoping to keep their village safe from the North Vietnamese Army. But war is unpredictable, and when the Americans abandon the country in 1975, the village is attacked and the survivors forced to flee. Y’Tin is initially captured by marauding North Vietnamese soldiers who are no more than boys themselves, but somehow manages to escape. He is forced to confront his father’s involvement with the Americans, and his life-long friendships that seem to be falling apart. He must look deep into his heart and decide what is best for his Lady, who is about to bring a new life into the world.
As his life changes so rapidly, young Y’Tin must face “a million shades of gray” between loyalty and betrayal, right and wrong, and even life and death. Kadohata – whose young son is originally from Vietnam – writes a stirring, memorable story about the unconditional love between a boy and his (larger-than-life) pet, and the tragic destruction of innocent lives during times of inexplicable war. Her informative ”Author’s Note” at title’s end offers historical context about the indigenous tribes of the Vietnamese highlands, and the subsequent immigration of some of those refugees to the U.S., many settling in North Carolina.
By the way, pull out a hankie or two … you’re going to need it.
Readers: Middle Grade