First Lines: Concrete can rot. It turns green and black before crumbling away. Maybe only people from Congo know that.
A professor of mine in college, knowing that I was a huge YA fan, recommended this to me one of the last days I saw her. Well, my college days are behind me, but I never forgot her recommendation. It was always there, in the back of my mind. After being burnt out on fantasy and love stories, I thought this would be an interesting change.
For 14-year-old Sophie, the bonobo sanctuary her mother runs is both a haven and a chore. She spends the school year in Miami with her father and the summers in Congo with her mother, helping at the sanctuary. When Sophie rescues a bonobo baby from an abusive owner, she quickly finds in him a new friend. But life in Congo is far from stable…and when a revolution comes to her doorstep, Sophie will need the bonobos as much as they need her to survive.
I know this sounds a little bizarre. I thought the same two years ago. But for animal lovers, it’s really cool. I didn’t know really anything about bonobos before I started this book. Now, I feel like I have a better understanding of their species and even more about human nature. It’s amazing what you see happening in times of darkness and despair.
Alright, so I’ll straight-up tell you that Sophie can sometimes be annoying. Growing up in the US has made her feel somewhat entitled to certain things. She’s whiny. But she’s also what I’d expect to find out of a teenager who doesn’t really know/see her mother much and who feels her life is uprooted every summer. And as the story goes on, she does get better. Tragedy tends to do that.
The amazing thing was that the bonobos were characters too. They had personalities and quirks. I didn’t always understand what was going on with all that hollering and body language, but I slowly got there. Well, at least enough to know who was in charge and who lived at the bottom of the pecking order. I truly started to like them more than the human characters!
The setting is also fascinating. I don’t always take the time to talk about this. As Sophie will tell you, Congo (and Africa) isn’t necessarily the backwater village we think it is. They have the Internet and cell phones. But terrible regimes have stunted their growth somewhat.
And that’s what Sophie walks right into the middle of. There is very real violence in this book, in so many different ways. It’s not gory violence, perhaps, but there’s a lot that’s insinuated. You know. And that’s sometimes hard to read about.
There are times the story proceeds at a slow pace, but it is still pretty interesting. If you’re looking for something a bit different…this may be it.