Thursday, March 14, 2013

Susan's Book Review: Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

 

Endangered features nearly everything I love in a book: animals, underdogs, useful knowledge, survival, a strong female character, and beautiful writing. Sophie is 14 and in Congo during her summer break from school to visit her mother at her bonobo sanctuary. She grew up there until she was 8, but now she lives in Miami with her Dad. Sophie meets Otto, the baby bonobo at the heart of the story, when she “rescues” him from a man selling him on the side of a crowded road. She’s naively convinced she did the right thing because the animal was too skinny, had open sores, and was obviously scared. (Later she learns a hard lesson when the man shows up with two more sickly bonobos and her mother refuses to buy them, knowing it only creates a market for it.) Sophie and Otto bond quickly. Baby bonobos who are separated from their mothers must have a surrogate mother or they almost always die. Sophie is working to wean Otto onto one of the professional sanctuary surrogates when a civil war breaks out. The Congo government is corrupt on its best day and after fighting begins, things quickly devolve. Armed men show up and Sophie and Otto manage to escape into the fenced area with the adult bonobos for safety. (The fence is solar-powered so even without electricity, they can rely on it.) When the men kill the workers and decide to stay there, Sophie must learn to communicate with the adult bonobos, find food and fresh water, keep track of Otto, and try to avoid getting sick or injured. After a few weeks of this, she discovers the fence is no longer armed and knows they’ve got to leave before the men figure it out.

 

Once they escape the sanctuary, Sophie must figure out where to go. Her mother left just a few days before the men arrived on a mission to release adult bonobos into the wild. She decides to head to the release site and locate her mother. Along the way, Sophie is confronted with all sorts of challenges and evil and is able to overcome it because of her love for Otto. I really enjoyed seeing the human-animal bond portrayed so realistically. Animals amaze me with their capacity to love and communicate with creatures who don’t speak their language. Some people wonder why we should concern ourselves with animal injustices when there is so much human cruelty in the world, but to me they are connected. There’s an interview in the back of the book with the author and he says we don’t have to ignore a lesser suffering because there’s a greater one out there—that’s a sure route to paralysis. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s unrealistic to think we’ll solve the world’s problems by focusing on one at a time. Sophie could have easily left Otto behind numerous times and it would technically have made her life easier, but she would have lost her purpose.

 

In my opinion, a great book will make me laugh, cry, and think, and Endangered caused all three in spades. I was emotionally exhausted by the end and curious to know more about both Congo and bonobos. I think teens that like realistic fiction, animal stories, and possibly even dystopias (it’s a real-life dystopia!) will enjoy this book.

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