From School Library Journal
Grade 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
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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. Grades 7-12. --Hazel Rochman
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