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"The compelling tale of a girl who must save a group of bonobos--and herself--from a violent coup.
The Congo is a dangerous place, even for people who are trying to do good.
When one girl has to follow her mother to her sanctuary for bonobos, she's not thrilled to be there. It's her mother's passion, and she'd rather have nothing to do with it. But when revolution breaks out and their sanctuary is attacked, she must rescue the bonobos and hide in the jungle. Together, they will fight to keep safe, to eat, and to survive.
Eliot Schrefer asks readers what safety means, how one sacrifices to help others, and what it means to be human in this new compelling adventure." (Summary from Goodreads
is a book that feels Important. It contains a lot of information about life in the Congo, about bonobos, about what it's like to live through the horror of a civil war. It gives us a sense of the complicated morals involved in this situation as well. In the opening, Sophie, our narrator, saves a bonobo from misery and probably death by buying him and bringing him to her mother's sanctuary. A good thing to do, right? But it also means that the man who sold him believes that there is a market for bonobos. There are no simple answers.
At the same time, important books often translate to books without a lot of plot, and that's definitely what I felt here. It's in an awkward place partway between fiction and non-fiction, and Sophie often comes across as a vehicle for moving the book forward rather than a real character. I mean, I don't think it's an accident that there's a bonobo on the front cover, rather than Sophie. It's not an accident that she's not named in the summary above.
Is this a problem? Maybe not. The people who pick this up will read it because they're interested in the subject, rather than because they want a character-driven book. For me personally, because I am such a character-driven reader, this facet made me feel disconnected from the book. I didn't have any emotional stakes in the story, aside from the sort of vague sense that I ought to because it was a worthy cause.
On another level, I have a hard time with anthropomorphized animals outside of an out-and-out fantasy book. I felt like Schrefer was walking a very fine line between trying to point out how close bonobos are to humans, and not making them into humans. In general I was okay, but there were a couple points where I felt like it kind crossed over. This is partly a personal reading issue, but I do feel like it points again to what I mentioned above--that the bonobos are at the center of the book.
I'm glad that this book exists and I think that for the right reader it could be very powerful (Maggie Stiefvater, for instance, really liked it
). For myself, I was interested in learning more about bonobos from a non-fiction source, but as a reader this was a book I personally was not highly invested in.
Book information: Scholastic, 2012; YA/upper mg
Book source: ARC from publisher received for Cybils