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



Fall 2016 Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 9780545655033
Hardcover Price: $18.99

Rescued is a novel so deeply personal that the reader can't help but to quickly relate to the pre-teen narrator, John, who finds himself in something of a fix. Several pages into the tale, John fills you in on the crux of the story: "Every family's got something weird about it. And mine is no different. We just had to try harder than most to hide it. All it took was someone to walk in the door to see that we had an orangutan …. "

But, as great storytelling goes, John's family has bigger issues than having acquired an orangutan, Raja. Stolen from Indonesia as a baby, Raja becomes the family pet-with a family that had no idea what that might entail as Raja grew from being an adorable, diapered, human-baby-like infant to a full-grown Great Ape. Meanwhile, John's parents are at a critical juncture in their unhappy marriage and about to separate. His irresponsible father isn't there emotionally or, due to work, physically for them. His mother barely holds everything together and is ready to give up. So, John grows up closely bonding to Raja, his pet orangutan, his only confidante, his brother.

Two-time National Book Award finalist Eliot Schrefer has written three books about great apes-all of which refuse to buy into the usual anthropomorphism that pervades so many pop-culture films and stories about humans interacting with animals. Schrefer sticks to reality, which isn't always warm and cuddly.

Never mind that humans share 96.4 percent of their genetic makeup with orangutans. There remains an un-Disneyesque genetic divide that ultimately leads to problems for John's family and for Raja. Humans are humans; apes are apes. The message is that trying to raise a baby orangutan as if he is a human child is a headlong directive to tragedy. John tries his best through most of this story to rescue his best friend from the inevitable.

Schrefer writes an exceptional story that fleshes out vivid characters-both human and orangutan-and he creates convincing and honest descriptions of ape and human interaction with an admirable sensibility to the moral predicaments those relationships can create.

What an amazing and rare book for young readers!

Don Oldenburg   ©2016 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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