Review: The Gray

The Gray

by Chris Baron

Feiwel & Friends, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Jacqueline Jules

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Sasha’s summer plans are abruptly changed when his doctor suggests a break from technology. Instead of playing marathon games of Earthforge with his friend Daniel, Sasha is headed to a rural town in upstate New York to stay with his Aunt Ruthie. Cell service is so spotty there, Sasha can’t even use his phone on a reliable basis. He is wary of a device-free summer. How can being away from everything he enjoys help him manage his anxiety? Aunt Ruthie is a supportive ally, sharing the story of Rabbi Akiva who learned that “change happens little by little” after examining the power of water to slowly erode stone. Sasha employs a grounding technique to help him handle what he calls the “Gray,” those times when he feels so overwhelmed, “it feels like I go to a different place.” And Aunt Ruthie wisely advises, “When things feel big, take them just one step at a time.” 

This touching middle grade novel sensitively addresses anxiety in young people and how it can affect interactions with others. In an author’s note, Chris Baron shares that “much of what Sasha feels, and what he goes through, comes from my own experience.” This personal connection to the topic permeates Sasha’s authentic first person narrative. Sasha is a relatable character readers will immediately root for.

Numerous scenes in The Gray take place at the site of a former Jewish summer camp called Camp Akiva. There are references to Jewish holidays and Shabbat throughout the book. Rabbi Akiva is referenced several times as a model for personal growth. Jewish characters and Jewish culture are presented in a positive, accurate manner, making this book appropriate for serious consideration by the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee. However, this reviewer hopes the novel also finds a wide audience outside of the Jewish community. Books like The Gray promote empathy and understanding for mental health concerns. They also show young readers who struggle with strong emotions that they are not alone.

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Reviewer Jacqueline Jules is the author of fifty books for young readers including The Porridge-Pot Goblin, The Hardest Word, Picnic at Camp Shalom, Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva, Light the Menorah: A Hanukkah Handbook, and Never Say a Mean Word Again. Her middle grade verse novel, My Name is Hamburger, was a PJ Our Way selection. She lives on Long Island and enjoys talking long walks along the water. Visit her online