Friday, June 23, 2023

Guy Friday- The Gray

Baron, Chris. The Gray
June 13, 2023 by Feiwel Friends
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sasha has been struggling with anxiety and with other kids in his class at school, and after an incident when he hurt someone who was giving him a hard time, his parents think that therapy and medication are not enough. He needs a break from screens, and a change of scenery, so they decide to send him to live with his Aunt Ruthie for the summer. Her husband, Sasha's favorite uncle, has died, and Sasha's parents would like her to leave her small, rural community and come live near them in the city. Ruthie has an active life near the closed Camp Akiva where she used to work, and still gives some dancing lessons to neighbor children like green haired Ivy. She encourages Sasha to get outside, and he meets a group of kids, including Ivy, at the abandoned camp. Unfortunately, his nerves get the best of him, and he ends up throwing up on the shoes of Boon, the local bully, who vows vengeance. He is saved by Eli, who is very quiet but has a history that has led the other children to leave him alone. Eventually, Sasha engages Eli to be his "bodyguard" and spends more time at Eli's family farm. Sasha's anxiety and depression sometimes descend upon him in very significant ways, and make the world around him seem to receed; he calls these episodes "the gray". His uncle suffered from them as well, so his aunt understands and is able to help. There is a horse Sasha would like to ride who is coincidentally called "the gray", but after being thrown, it's hard for him to get back up. His aunt enrolls him in a Krav Maga class. Ivy becomes friends with him, and claims that Boon and the rest are the only people in town to hang around, hence her involvement with them. Sasha learns a little about Eli's problems with his family, and after the two spend some time together, Eli confides in Sasha himself. Will getting away from screens and being outdoors with other people his own age help Sasha to deal with his mental health challenges?
Strengths: There are a lot of good details about how Sasha deals with his anxiety. His diagnosis is "heightened sensitivity with social anxiety", he has a doctor whom he sees, and he practices a lot of coping strategies like box breathing and 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. His aunt is a fun yet understanding character, and I'm glad that she is portrayed as having a full life of her own. The abandoned camp is a good touch, and reminded me of Matson's new The Firefly Summer. I imagine there are a lot of abandoned camps in the US, now that most parents don't necessarily get their children away from all of their screens! Sasha's parents are also very understanding and want the best for him. 
Weaknesses: The issues with Eli were important but seemed like a bit much to add to a story where a lot was already going on. Younger readers won't quite understand what happened to his brother. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like this author's other books(The Magical Imperfect and All of Me), LeGrand's Some Kind of Happiness or Haydu's One Jar of Magic. 

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