Wednesday, April 6, 2016

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Threatened by Eliot Schrefer


When he was a boy, Luc's mother would warn him about the "mock men" living in the trees by their home -- chimpanzees whose cries would fill the night.

Luc is older now, his mother gone. He lives in a house of mistreated orphans, barely getting by. Then a man calling himself Prof comes to town with a mysterious mission. When Luc tries to rob him, the man isn't mad. Instead, he offers Luc a job.

Together, Luc and Prof head into the rough, dangerous jungle in order to study the elusive chimpanzees. There, Luc finally finds a new family -- and must act when that family comes under attack.

As he did in his acclaimed novel ENDANGERED, a finalist for the National Book Award, Eliot Schrefer takes us somewhere fiction rarely goes, introducing us to characters we rarely get to meet. The unforgettable result is the story of a boy fleeing his present, a man fleeing his past, and a trio of chimpanzees who are struggling not to flee at all.


Schrefer has created an incredible reading experience with this powerful book about a boy and his search for family. As the story opens, Luc works at a bar, cleaning up after patrons and delivering drinks.  But most of the money he makes goes to the moneylender for the debt that his mother's illness left him with.  Thinking only of his desperate need to get away from Monsier Tatagoni, Luc steals a metal briefcase from an Arab professor who invited him to assist him to his bordering house.  But when the Prof shows up at the orphanage, Luc thinks his life is over.  Surprisingly, the Prof recruits Luc and pays off his debt (supposedly), and Luc heads into the Gabon jungle to study chimps with the Prof.  At first, Luc plans to desert the Prof as soon as he can, but as he gets to know the man as well as the chimps that live 'inside', Luc starts to wonder if he's found a new family.

The details surrounding Luc's experiences inside the Gabon rain forest are exquisite.  I could almost feel the humidity and see the fear that Luc feels when he runs into chimps (or as he calls them 'mock men') for the first time.  It's clear that Schrefer has done his homework as Luc's new 'home' comes vividly to life.  The things that Luc experiences with the chimps and the tragedies that Luc continues to run into stayed with me long after I closed the book.  There is a lot to think about here in terms of home and family as well as environmental concerns surrounding chimpanzees and there disappearing habitats.  It's not at all hard to see why this book was a National Book Award finalist.  It certainly deserves to be.

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