You are about to enter the world of South Vietnam just as the American War is ending. Y'Tin's father has helped the Americans on several missions and now there is fear of retribution as the Americans pull out and the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong pull in. Y'Tin has dreams. He is a talented elephant trainer and he has his own female elephant, Lady, with whom he has bonded. She knocks him around with her trunk and he loves her. As we meet Y'Tin, his village is about to be overrun by the brutal North Vietnamese. Interestingly enough, it is an army of about 200 men none of whom seem to be over the age of 19 or 20.
"Y'tin’s heart went directly from pounding to stopping" as he thinks he sees his sister crying by the fence as he’s watching the North Vietnamese army swarming all over his village like ants. He started to run. A soldier stops him. "Lie down," comes the command. He sees a foot lowering and "Pow" it smashes into his nose. The whole village was erupting. Gunfire everywhere. The boy soldier’s foot crashed against his face again, "making a strange cracking sound." His whole face hurts.
The young boy soldiers brutally kill everyone in the village and throwing them into a mass grave. Y'Tin and two of his friends quietly slip away before the massacre. They find themselves making their way through the jungle in search of those villagers and family members who escaped just before the North Vietnamese arrived on the scene. Y'Tin's family always told him that the jungle changes people and he is about to learn this first hand as the other two boys turn on him and attack him because his father had helped the Americans. This book is a journey back to the village for all three boys and it's a journey into manhood for Y'Tin. He'll eventually forgive his childhood friend, Y'Juen, and will risk his life to bring him back to the village. Then, he'll have to find a new path for himself and leave his elephant and his family behind.