Fewer & Friends, 2023
The Gray is a sensitively told middle grade story from Chris Baron about living with anxiety and finding ways to cope.
It’s been a tough year for Sasha―he’s been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he calls the Gray, is growing. Sasha’s dad tells him to “toughen up”―and he does, but with unfortunate, hurtful results. His parents and therapist agree that a summer in the country with his aunt might be the best medicine, but it’s the last place he wants to be. He'll be away from his best friend, video games, and stuck in the house that reminds him of his beloved uncle who died two years earlier.
His aunt is supportive, and there are lots of places to explore, and even some potential new friends. When Sasha is introduced at a local ranch to a horse coincidentally--incredibly--nicknamed the Gray, he feels he's found a kindred spirit.
But his own Gray is ever-present. When one of his new friends disappears, Sasha discovers that the country is wilder and more mysterious than he imagined. He tries to muster enough courage to help in the search . . . but will the Gray hold him back?
"Baron intricately captures teen friendship dynamics, interweaving quiet suspense by gradually divulging a pivotal, dark moment in the town’s recent past. Sensory-rich settings and viscerally imagined depictions of anxiety manifest an immersive world without pulling punches, carving a hopeful path for Sasha’s mental health management. An author’s note shares Baron’s lived experience with anxiety." ―Publishers Weekly
"The central idea―that, since water can slowly change a rock, any person on Earth can also change, a concept connected to Uncle Lou’s beloved story from the Talmud about Akiva and the Stone―is one of enormous importance. Baron also gets props for his sympathetic and evenhanded depiction of anxiety and the many different ways to treat it, from in-the-minute breathing exercises to appropriate medication." ― Kirkus Reviews
"Thirteen-year-old Sasha deals with generalized anxiety and panic attacks, which he has dubbed “The Gray.” They get worse when he spends too much time on his electronic devices, so his concerned parents decide a device-free month upstate with his great-aunt Ruthie will be a tonic. ... Happily, once there he quickly makes a friend in Ivy; unhappily, he runs afoul of a band of bullies, from whom he is rescued by a mysteriously taciturn, solitary boy named Eli. ... Baron’s often-quiet story is well-plotted, and the characters are empathetic, especially Eli. The theme, change, is well-handled and perhaps will change readers as much as it does Sasha in the end." ―Booklist
"A moving exploration of friendship, the travails of adolescence, and the possibilities of navigating difficulties with grace and strength." ―Ben Guterson, author of Indie Next Pick, Winterhouse
"A standout! I've never read a middle grade novel that captures anxiety in such a descriptive, thoughtful, and comprehensive way, giving words to how it transforms the mind, body, and soul. What I find extra special and important is how Baron created a story that embraces anxiety as a part of many people's lives. Page after page, he helps to destigmatize and normalize this mental health issue, showing how it can be managed in a healthy way. ... It's beautiful, joyful, and fosters acceptance." ―Liza Weimer, author of Sydney Taylor Notable Book, The Assignment
"Adeptly portraying how debilitating and lonely anxiety can be, Baron sends main character Sasha on a journey he initially feels will be impossible to bear―a summer with his aunt in a small town with no wifi, no friends and still-raw memories of the beloved uncle he recently lost. Unfortunately, something his aunt’s town does have in common with his home in New York City is bullies. Luckily for Sasha, it also has allies―some unexpected, some four-legged and fond of sugar cubes. ... Baron writes not just about bullying but about how it feels to be bullied in a way that can only come from lived experience. Guilt, grief and faith intertwine in The Gray, giving Sasha―and readers―a restorative summer they’ll never forget." ―Karol Ruth Silverstein, Author of Cursed, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award
"A tender and loving portrayal of growing up with, and trying to grow through, anxiety. Baron's writing is beautiful and lyrical and infused with a great deal of compassion for all of his characters, especially those for whom compassion is hard won." ―Alyssa Wishingrad, author of The Verdigris Pawn
"The Gray bravely addresses the mental health topic of generalized anxiety and panic attacks, along with bullying, screen time, and video games. Importantly, it showcases the power of kindness, acceptance, and that change can be a gradual process." ―Ben Gartner, author of One Giant Leap
"A magical moving story about anxiety, fear, change, and friendship. But more than anything else it's a story that reminds us that if we are brave enough to ask for help when we need it, the world will show us that help can come in so many wonderful secret magical ways. A must read for any kid who finds themselves just a little out of place." ―Ally Malinenko, author of This Appearing House
"Filled with relatable, poignant descriptions of anxiety and panic symptoms, THE GRAY is a remarkable addition to middle grade mental health book collections.” ―Sofiya Pasternak, author of ANYA AND THE DRAGON, a Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor title
"A beautiful story told in a lovely, lyrical voice. The prose hums like splendid poetry. Baron is a master at expressing the emotional twists and turns of adolescence." ―Stacy Nockowitz, Middle School Librarian, author of The Prince of Steel Pier, winner of the 2022 National Jewish Book Award
“This book will help so many kids feel less alone, heal, and find their way. There is so much power in this story."
―Elizabeth Blye, Middle School Library Media Specialist, Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival board of directors
"A hugely important book and conversation for our times, both for the increasing number of kids struggling with anxiety and the adults in their lives." ―Sam Subity, author of The Last Shadow Warrior
"A must-have story about anxiety, technology, and how we can find our ways through the gray, no matter what it might be." -- Jess Redman, Mental Health Professional and author of The Miraculous
"This touching middle-grade novel sensitively addresses anxiety in young people and how it can affect interactions with others..."--Jacqueline Jules, The Sydney Taylor Schmooze
"Beautifully written and full of heart." -- Barbara Dee, author of Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
"This was just one of the most powerful and moving books I've ever read, Chris could well teach a masterclass on how to write the layered, meaningful, realistic." -- Diane Magras, author of Secret of the Shadow Beasts