Carolyn Reeder’s Shades of Grey makes me wish I were still teaching. Here is a coming-of-age tale that kids can share with their parents.


Carolyn Reeder’s Shades of Grey makes me wish I were still teaching. Given how much I’m enjoying my retirement, that’s a powerful statement. What makes it so good? Glad you asked.

Reeder’s story centers on Will Page, a 12-year-old lad who is the sole survivor of his immediate family. The Civil War has claimed his parents, his sisters, and his brothers. Will learns that he’s now to live with his uncle, his aunt, and his younger cousin on a once prosperous farm that has been unsparingly hit by the Yankee army and renegade soldiers.

The war may be over officially, but there’s still a powerful battle going on in Will’s heart. To his way of thinking, there can be no good Yankees, nor can there be any bad Southerners. Except maybe for the uncle with whom he must now live, the man who refused to fight for the South.

Will’s dilemma becomes a moral coming of age story, one in which even a 10-year-old will understand. Is there a bigger picture than the one that’s before our immediate eyes? Can there be more to an issue than good/bad, black/white? And how does one reconcile one’s absolute certainty about how things should be with how things could be?

Will has much to learn. Some of his lessons involve his younger cousin, a girl who surprises him over and over again by breaking the stereotypes he’d expected. (Your middle school daughters will love this character.)

His lessons also include learning about dealing with bullies, and about the hands-on intelligence it takes to rebuild a farm when animals have been killed and machinery has been stolen.

It’s obvious to the adult reader that Will will conquer his dilemmas. But the inner conflicts Reeder lets us in on are rife with potential discussions. I’d love to ask a group of fifth to eighth graders how they think the bullies in the novel would have behaved if the setting were their school grounds. I’d ask them what they think of Will’s obstinate refusal to call his uncle by name. I’d ask them … well, if you’re used to talking about books with your YA reader, I know you’ll come up with a questions of your own. As for me, I’d love to hear about your kids’ responses.


Author: Judy Westergard

Retired English teacher, self-taught painter, inveterate reader and still lovin' my Kindle!


  1. …I’m feeling a little awkward about responding so often and am frankly sorry and astounded more don’t, but be that as it may, here I am again! Simply wanted to say how much I regret not having someone I could give this book to, to read and discuss it with. All the youths in my family are still too young, and of the Filipinos I know here, it would be beyond their ability to grasp the language. Most of my life I’ve had hoards of children to give books to, particularly at Christmas time, and it was the most wonderful experience to walk into a bookstore and, based on my description of each child, have the owner succinctly recommend, as you have, exactly the right book. I miss that, which is probably a large part of why I’ve hung onto this post of yours, even just for the hoping that others would have responded with questions they would ask. But perhaps they did privately…so now I’m feeling a little self-conscious about wishing others would enter into the ‘conversation’, too. Will stop.

    Am grateful you take the time to share your posts as often as you do. It is an effort (for me, anyway) to regularly update a blog…increasingly so many demands on time, everywhere/everyone. Thank you, Judy, for your time and caring.


    1. No! Don’t stop responding! I rarely comment first because typing is becoming painful. But I do so enjoy reading what you think! As for kids…The Cay is a good possibility given your location. A spoiled brat and a black crew member find themselves on a small Caribbean island during WWII. They’re the only survivors of the ship on which they were evacuated. The kid has been blinded and must depend on the crew member, who is black. The kid has no idea. Good for 4th through 8th graders; if your munchkins are too young yet, keep it on the back burner. BTW, much of the dialogue is written in an easy-to-read Jamaican dialect; lots of fun!


  2. Just saw your most recent post–the luscious photo of pumpkin pies hadn’t loaded in my email account so came direct to see what it was, and then realized you’d replied to my earlier comment. I must not have checked the box for notification of new comments, so had taken the (mistaken) silence as confirmation of ‘wearing out my welcome’. So neurotic. Shouldn’t even air my insecurities in public! Thanks for the recommendation of THE CAY. I’ve seen (but not read) the book in the used bookstore I frequent. Will pick up a copy and save it, as you suggest. Thank you so much for putting such a big smile on my face this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

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