Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978



Spring 2014 Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0545551434
Hardcover Price: $17.99

When Luc first meets Professor Abdul Mohammed in a café, he is thinking only of how he can steal the Prof's shiny, locked briefcase, so that he can hand over the treasure to his greedy orphan master, pay off his debt, and be free to make his own way in Franceville, Gabon. To Luc's surprise, however, the Prof becomes the first person since his mother's death to take an interest in him. Instead of turning Luc in for attempted theft, he pays Luc's debt to Monsieur Tatagani, buys him shoes and medicine, and gives him a job as a research assistant. Unfortunately, this job turns out to be even more frightening than cruel Monsieur Tatagani; the Prof is headed into the jungle to study chimpanzees in their natural habitat, and Luc has been raised on tales of the dangers of the Inside. Despite his fear, Luc quickly becomes attached to the Prof, and to the chimpanzee families he comes to know, and begins to question his assumptions about human and non-human animals.

This engaging novel will appeal to a wide variety of readers, as it combines adventure, survival, environmental consciousness, and the warmth of a newly constructed family. It can be tricky for an American to write about an African setting, but Schrefer seems to have done a great deal of research, and deftly suggests differences between urban, rural, and jungle settings, as well as potential conflicts between the Egyptian Prof and the Gabonais Luc; his wry use of a beaten-up Baedeker tourist guide to Gabon serves as an effective way to poke fun at Westerners' conceptions of "civilized" and "uncivilized" life. Schrefer also avoids over-romanticizing Luc's decision to stay with the chimps, rather than returning to the company of humans, emphasizing the loneliness and danger that Luc continues to experience in the jungle despite his love for his chimp family. At times, the prose is a bit over-written, slowing down the pace. Nevertheless, animal lovers, adventure lovers, and budding activists will find much to appreciate in this novel.

Naomi Lesley   ©2014 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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