Book Review: Endangered by Eliot Schrefer
I learned about Endangered by Eliot Schrefer on Saturday at the Austin Teen Book Festival (it’s good, you should go). He was part of a panel of authors talking about thrillers, which Endangered definitely is. But it is also a story with tremendous heart.
Sophie visits her mother every summer at the Bonoba sanctuary. Here, her mother’s dedicated her life to rescuing Bonobos, a type of monkey/ape that is remarkably similar to humans in its DNA. When Sophie sees a street peddler trying to sell a clearly abused Bonobo, she knows that she must rescue it. She soon finds herself playing surrogate mother to Otto. The first part of Endangered tells the story of how Sophie and Otto bond as she slowly nurtures him from the brink of death. However, soon the barely surviving country of Congo breaks out into a full blown revolution and everyone’s life is at risk as the quest to survive becomes full throttle.
There are several main characters in this book, but one of the most interesting is the Congo itself. Part of the power and glory of well written literature is that it can help those of us who never step outside of US borders examine life in other countries:
Life in the Congo, the absolute danger and uncertainty of it, is depicted with a stark and chilling realism: Schefer stresses time and time again that wherever you are when the sun goes down, you find a place to go inside and lock the doors until the sun goes up.
In contrast, we see this beautiful relationship emerging between Sophie and Otto; they lay in the grass and feel the warmth of the sun on their skin, they play their own version of Scrabble, they truly bond.
Sophie herself is an interesting character. She grew up for parts of her life in the Congo, but since her parents divorce she lives with her obviously loving and nurturing father and visits her sometimes distracted but dedicated mother in the Congo. Sophie literally lives with her feet in two different worlds and there area variety of intense emotions and keen insight that come from this life. In the chapters that follow, fleeing and trying to survive, Sophie demonstrates a strength and resolve that is laudable.
Endangered is intense but grounded in a very stark reality. The truth is, there are people living lives like this in this very moment and Schrefer gives a thrilling, realistic but compassionate look into a world all too real. Our teens will probably never have to survive the Hunger Games, but there are teens trying to survive country revolutions right this very moment. The power of great fiction is too teach us things and make us think while simultaneously entertaining us and without a doubt, Endangered has its edge of your seat thriller moments. But like I said, it also has heart.
Endangered is a must read, informative (politics, Bonobo facts, life outside the U.S), thrilling and full of characters you care about. Pair it with The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (another look at primate life) for a great animal unit with insight into love, family, and the value of life. 4 out of 5 stars (I sometimes found the sentence structure and voice stilting, but not enough to diminish the impact of the story.) This is a good, old fashioned adventure story. There will be tears people. There will be nailbiting. There will be gasps.
Endangered by Eliot Schrefer is released October 2nd, 2012 by Scholastic. ISBN: 978-0-545-16576-1. BBC Bonobo facts. The World Factbook information on the Democratic Replubic of Congo.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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