Estelle: Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

Endangered by Eliot SchreferEndangered by Eliot Schrefer  [ website | tweet ]
Publication Date: October 1, 2012
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 272
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Africa, Congo, mother/daughter relationships, revolution, survival
Format read: ARC from NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary:  It’s summer break and Sophie has returned to the Congo, where her mother lives, running a sanctuary for bonobos. Sophie keeps her distance from the bonobos mostly, but when she saves the weak Otto, she feels instantly bonded to him. Her summer turns into a journey of survival when a violent attack occurs and threatens the sanctuary and her life.

A powerful departure from a world of love triangles, high school drama, and gossip, Endangered is an addictive and emotional read about a girl named Sophie, who is visiting her mother in the Congo during her summer break. Her mother has dedicated her life to the bonobo – a chimp-like animal who is actually the human’s closest relative (we share 98.7% of the same DNA). Ironically, her mother’s dedication to keeping the bonobos safe in an enclosure she maintains has severed her own connection with Sophie.

Rightfully, Sophie doesn’t want much to do with the bonobos but when she sees one in danger, she pays to take him, and they are instantly bond. She’s not supposed to pay for the bonobos – ones taken from the Congo have been ripped from their environment because more than likely their mother has been killed – and the promise of money only inspires unscrupulous people to repeat this practice. But Otto isn’t well, and Sophie can’t bear the thought of letting him live that way.

The bond between Sophie and Otto is evident from the very beginning. At times, he feels like her child and her sibling, and as I got deeper into the story, I sometimes forgot that he was a wild animal at all. When an attack breaks out and the bonobo sanctuary is threatened, Sophie and Otto support and help each other. Schrefer has created such an environment that Endangered almost feels dystopian in ways. It’s a world that we don’t often hear about, and the book takes an intense turn when Sophie must rely on nature for survival and trust in Otto.

Lush and breathtaking, but dangerous and ominous, this novel becomes its own living and breathing entity, so much so that I had to close and reopen just to catch my breath.

Expertly, Schrefer weaves together Sophie’s own memories of her parents with the political unrest in the Congo. The parallels drawn between these animals and Sophie’s own relationship with her mother are subtly and effectively done. (“Being someone’s child was always tough, always in its own way.”) In fact, I never once thought I would have such a strong reaction to this book. But it was so incredibly relatable: the will we have to survive, the complex relationships we have with our parents, and how we might have more in common with the animal kingdom than we think.

This book is a triumph in so many ways. The first 100 pages are jam-packed with so much detail and content, I felt like I had read 200 and in a good way. I never felt overwhelmed, just thrust into this world and its characters. It’s beautiful, quotable writing and challenging too — most of the time Sophie is an observer and hanging out with bonobos so there is very little dialogue. But I never missed it. There is so much said with action and movement and small behaviors that Schrefer created his own language. In general, the author does a tremendous job of burying the cultural divide Sophie feels in the beginning (she grew up in the Congo but moved back to the U.S. with her dad) as the story moves deeper and deeper into the Congo; it makes you extremely aware of how distinctly different life can be.

As a whole, Endangered has the feel of those naturalistic but intense novels from my childhood (Lord of the Flies, Bridge to Terabithia, Julie & the Wolves) because it can be enjoyed by both sexes equally and forces great discussions, while beaming with this timeless quality. Sure, Endangered might not be the typical contemporary young adult novel that everyone flocks to, but it is certainly one that is worth stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing; it’s the perfect balance of environment and emotion, family and connection — familiar themes in literature that are made refreshing and new.

own it now -- highest ranking from Rather Be Reading Blog

Goodreads | Amazon

Estelle: Camp by Elaine Wolf

Camp by Elaine Wolf ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: June 15, 2012
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Pages: 256
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: 1960s, mother/daughter relationships, bullying, family secrets
Format read: Hardcover received from publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: In the summer of 1963, Amy is unwillingly sent to a summer camp run by her uncle. It seems she cannot escape her mother’s unpleasant comments, especially when a bully focuses on making her time at camp totally miserable.

Take any kumbaya notions of summer camp and forget them because Amy Becker’s experience is anything but.

Instead of a summer making friends and playing tennis, she is the butt of the biggest bully’s jokes. And sometimes more than jokes, incidents that could qualify as sexual harassment. Rory is probably one of the bitchiest characters I have ever met in the literary world. She has no respect for her equals, for her elders, and never thinks before she speaks. Her actions and her attitide were absolutely disgusting and I was beyond revolted by her treatment of Amy and the other campers.

The kicker is that Amy didn’t want to go to camp in the first place. Her dad’s brother, Ed, just bought the camp and was allowing Amy to attend when all she wanted to do was stay home with her mentally disabled brother, Charlie. Her mom is pretty detached and judgmental and Amy feels like she is the only one that Charlie can count on. But her dad wins this battle and Amy is off to camp for the summer of her life.

In the words of Cher from Clueless: As if.

Various events at camp (not just Rory’s behavior) cause Amy to remember many events of her childhood that she has kept buried and the mysteries of her mom’s behavior start to make sense. For so long Amy has heard about the “hard life” her mother has had to endure but she can only focus on the way her mom always has to look perfect, her hurtful scrutinizing, and her lack of love for both her and her brother. It’s heartbreaking to see how her mother’s history has created this wedge between them, and the events of the summer only cause that wedge to grow bigger and deeper.

Set in 1963, Wolf plants a few early seeds in the novel that give way to the secrets in Amy’s family but I never guessed what would have had happened or what would unfold to the Beckers. Uncle Ed, his wife, and snobby daughter are no help either. The amount of anger and how hurtful these people can be is beyond anything I have ever experienced. No wonder everyone felt so alone. (Acting like Amy’s mom and dad brought up their son to be mentally disabled just broke my heart in a million pieces.)

By the time Camp wraps up I was left to wonder if the author had inserted too much pain and drama into the lives of these four people. In any other book I would have said a definite yes but Wolf weaves the stories together in such a way that it just works. She’s brave not to sugarcoat the bullying and summer camp, which for more reasons than one, becomes a turning point in Amy’s life – for good and bad. I was also left to wonder if those who are treated badly and go through traumatic events are almost justified in their ugly treatment of others. It creates quite a dichotomy when the victim feels both compassion and hate for the antagonist.

The sheer cruelty and truth exposed in Camp make it a difficult read. Anyone with half a heart would not want anyone to go through anything like this, but Wolf brings important issues to the forefront and has created a coming-of-age story that, at times, reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with survival instincts that brought to mind Lord of the Flies. Impressive character development make Amy a character to root for, and Camp impossible to put down until you reached the final word.

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon