07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Multicultural Fiction, Teen Books

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, read by Courtney, on 06/07/2014

Sophie’s mother runs the only bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, so vacations spent with her mother are anything but ordinary. On one of her excursions outside of the sanctuary, Sophie comes across a man with a baby bonobo in a cage. Seeing the poor physical state of the young bonobo, Sophie decides to take matters into her own hands. She takes out her spending money and barters with the man. She arrives back at the sanctuary with a lighter wallet and a very ill baby bonobo who may not even survive without its mother. Sophie’s mother is infuriated as Sophie’s action likely prompted the man to poach more of the endangered species. A penitent Sophie is determined to be the best surrogate she possibly can be. Towards the end of her scheduled trip, her mother has to leave to take a group of bonobos to a release site upriver. Due to a variety of factors, the release cannot be delayed simply because Sophie’s flight is scheduled at the same time. Sophie doesn’t mind; it will give her that much more time to bond with the baby bonobo that she’s named Otto.
A few days after her mother leaves, civil war breaks out in Congo. The president has been killed and the resulting power vacuum has caused the UN to evacuate all westerners. Sophie is told she will be leaving early. When the UN van arrives, however, Sophie cannot bring herself to leave Otto and jumps from the van as it pulls away from the sanctuary. By the time she gets back, rebels have encroached on the sanctuary. Sophie manages to hide with Otto in an electrically-fenced enclosure. She’s temporarily safe from the rebels, but the adult bonobos are another story.
It quickly becomes evident that Sophie cannot stay, so she makes a daring escape and is followed by several of the adult bonobos from the enclosure. Together they make their way across the war-town countryside as they head for the release site where Sophie’s mother went. The journey takes Sophie across dozens of miles of the DRC. At every turn, Sophie is confronted with the realities of war: child soldiers, starving families, violent militia men, death, destruction.
Endangered excels because it focuses not just on the astonishingly-human bonobos (who share nearly 97% of our DNA) and their plight, but because it refuses to operate in a vacuum. The DRC is a country with a complicated history and is also home to the largest population of bonobos in the world. When a country with vast natural resources has been traditionally mismanaged by colonial powers, however, everyone loses. Sophie’s journey is harrowing, unexpected and strangely beautiful. The narrative moves quickly without sentimentalizing. Sophie is a relate-able main character; she often acts according to her heart, which opens the doors for consequences that are often surprising and formative. Readers will appreciate the swiftly-moving narrative that utilizes popular literary elements like survival and eluding armed militias and grounds them in a very real context. The ending ties up a bit too tidily and Sophie gets extremely lucky on more than one occasion, but these foibles can be easily overlooked. The rest of the story is totally solid though not for the faint of heart.

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