Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

Happy week of Thanksgiving! I finally had time to read a non-Shelf, non-course, non-work book thanks to the extra day off from work and the week off from school. I hope that after graduation, I’ll regularly have time to read for pleasure once again. I only review grown-up books for Shelf Awareness, so all reading of children’s and YA fic must happen in my spare time. Today, let’s talk about the first galley I’ve ever managed to get from Scholastic:

endangered cover art


by Eliot Schrefer

Scholastic Press, $17.99 Hardcover, 9780545165761, October 1, 2012

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.

I’m way behind the curve on this book, as it’s been out nearly two months now, but I liked it so much that I decided to feature it anyway.

I related to 14-year-old Sophie, the heroine, instantly. When she sees a trader with an injured baby bonobo, she acts without thought and buys the ape for her mother, the head of a bonobo sanctuary. Her mom gets angry; hasn’t she told Sophie a million times that buying orphans only encourages trappers to kill more adult bonobos and steal the babies? Having worked in dog rescue, I could understand both the viewpoint of Sophie (the bonobo is tiny and helpless) and her mother (you can’t save animals by encouraging cruelty, even indirectly.) But regardless of the wisdom of Sophie’s decision, once she’s rescued little Otto, she has the responsibility of caring for him. After a rocky start, Otto develops from a sick, scabby, starved weakling into a healthy, loving baby bonobo who never leaves Sophie’s side. The attachment is bittersweet, though, because Sophie is supposed to return to her father in America at the end of the summer.

Before her scheduled departure, war breaks out in the Congo. Her mother is away on a bonobo release expedition, certain that the fighting will not come in the direction of the sanctuary. As an American citizen, Sophie is given the chance to evacuate, but chooses to stay when Otto cannot accept her departure. Despite hopes that the fighting will not spread to their area, rebel soldiers come to the sanctuary and kill most of the staff. Sophie and Otto only survive by hiding with the adult bonobos in the sanctuary yard. While foraging for food and water in the sanctuary isn’t overly taxing, Sophie knows she and Otto cannot stay. The hungry soldiers are certain to enter the bonobo enclosure eventually, and a fourteen-year-old girl will prove easy prey. She’s also not safe with the adult bonobos, as Anastasia, the dominant female, has taken a dislike to her. Eventually she and Otto strike out on a journey across the war-torn, bug-infested landscape, where they try to avoid dehydration, starvation, and a multitude of soldiers and individuals who would love to prey on a young girl and turn Otto into dinner.

This book sent my blood pressure through the roof. Sophie is so sweet and fierce in her love for Otto, definitely a great illustration of how maternal instinct can extend across species. His dependence turns out to be her salvation on their journey, a constant reminder that she cannot give up or they will both die. The danger the pair shares is unrelenting, both of them on the verge of death several times. Schrefer’s imagining of the Congo at war had my heart in knots at all times from the brutality and poverty.

The personalization of the endangered species crisis works particularly well. The peace-loving Bonobos share more DNA with humans than any other ape species. Sophie reflects on this fact frequently, at one point equating the consumption of bonobo flesh to cannibalism.

Although filled with plenty of cuddly-cute baby bonobo moments, Endangered is overall realistically violent. People die, horribly. Bonobos die, horribly. However, this violence isn’t gratuitous. It’s meant to bring home the reality of war to a generation of teenage Americans insulated from the harsh realities of life outside our borders. A success on every level, Endangered should pierce the heart of any reader from the moment Sophie scoops Otto to the bittersweet ending.