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A Million Shades of Gray


About The Book

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

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 by the Americans. How do Tomas and Y’Juen have a different idea of betrayal than Y’Tin? Tomas and Y’Juen think that Y’Tin’s father betrayed his people.  Debate whether he was actually working on behalf of his people. Y’Tin says that he would rather die than betray his people. Discuss whether Tomas and Y’Juen would make that pledge.

Explain what Y’Tin’s father means when he says, “We must use the jungle as a weapon.”

At the beginning of the novel, Y’Tin is a boy, and at the end he is a man. At what point does he realize that he has become a man? Y’Tin feels sad that he is no longer a boy. What does he miss most about childhood? What might Y’Tin say was the toughest part about becoming a man?

Earlier Y’Tin refers to Tomas as a man. Discuss whether Tomas displays the qualities of manhood. How is Y’Tin a bigger man that Tomas and Y’Juen?

Fear overtakes the Rhade tribe as the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong threaten their village. Y’Tin’s father tells him that he has to face what’s happening. When Y’Tin says that he isn’t scared, his father replies, “Then you’re not thinking straight.” Why is it important for Y’Tin to feel fear?  How might fear keep Y’Tin focused and cautious? Discuss other times when Y’Tin comes face-to-face with fear. How does he deal with each situation?

Explain why Y’Tin’s father calls the war the American War. Why are the North Vietnamese especially interested in men like Y’Tin’s father? How does his father’s work with the Americans make the entire Rhade tribe vulnerable?

Y’Tin’s father worries that the North Vietnamese might capture Y’Tin, strip him of his identity, and put him in a reeducation camp. What do these camps teach?How might the North Vietnamese be more interested in someone like Y’Tin than in Tomas or Y’Juen? Discuss how these camps are really about revenge.

Y’Tin’s father is a wise man, and recognizes that different situations require different types of leaders.  Describe Y’Tin as a leader. Why is he more qualified to lead in the jungle than Tomas or Y’Juen? 

Y’Tin speaks a lot about fate, spirits, sacrifices, etc. How does this reflect the religion of his people? Explain the role of the village shaman. Y’Tin struggles to deal with the sudden anger and hatred that has filled his heart after the North Vietnamese bombs his village. Why does he think that lying on Lady’s back will cleanse his heart? How are their spirits connected?

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Cynthia Kadohata is the author of the Newbery Medal–winning book Kira-Kira, the National Book Award winner The Thing About Luck, the Jane Addams Peace Award and PEN America Award winner WeedflowerCracker!, Outside BeautyA Million Shades of GrayHalf a World AwayCheckedA Place to Belong, Saucy, and several critically acclaimed adult novels, including The Floating World. She lives with her dogs and hockey-playing son in California. Visit her online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (January 5, 2010)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416998594
  • Grades: 5 - 9
  • Ages: 10 - 14
  • Lexile ® 700 The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Awards and Honors

  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
  • ILA Notable Books for a Global Society
  • California Collections
  • Writer's League of Texas Finalist

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More books from this author: Cynthia Kadohata