The Gray

  • Review
By – September 5, 2023

Strug­gling with social anx­i­ety and pan­ic dis­or­ders, and over­whelmed by tech­nol­o­gy, mid­dle school­er Sasha is sent upstate to spend a device-free sum­mer with Aunt Ruthie — who is no longer her­self after the death of Sasha’s beloved Uncle Lou.

Sasha is sor­ry to have to can­cel his sum­mer plans, which involve play­ing video games with his friend Daniel. His anx­ious thoughts seem to swal­low him up in a haze he calls The Gray,” where every­thing feels cold, lone­ly, and depress­ing. He prac­tices his ground­ing tech­niques, but he can’t han­dle the bul­ly­ing to which he is sub­ject­ed. If he doesn’t fight back, the bul­ly­ing per­sists; if he does, he hurts oth­ers and gets into seri­ous trou­ble. A sum­mer in the coun­try, in Aunt Ruthie’s warm Jew­ish envi­ron­ment, seems like an excel­lent idea. While he miss­es Uncle Lou and all the fun they had togeth­er, he can still explore new and old sur­round­ings — includ­ing the camp­grounds at Camp Aki­va, which were an impor­tant part of Uncle Lou’s life. Old Jew­ish sto­ries and deli­cious Jew­ish food con­tribute to Sasha’s heal­ing. He gets some much-need­ed dis­tance from his life at home, giv­ing him a new perspective.

As Sasha makes friends, rides hors­es, and helps Aunt Ruthie, he encoun­ters a new group of bul­lies. But he learns much about him­self and how best to live his life. He real­izes that although elec­tron­ic devices can con­tin­ue to play an impor­tant, if lim­it­ed, role in his life, he also has room in his heart for new friend­ships and many oth­er enrich­ing activ­i­ties. He also learns that The Gray can be han­dled with oth­ers’ help. By the end of the sum­mer, Sasha, new­ly con­fi­dent, is ready to con­tin­ue liv­ing his life using the tools he has acquired.

Read­ers will iden­ti­fy with Sasha as his under­stand­ing of the world matures, and will be ful­ly engrossed in his adven­tures and relationships.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions