Feb 28, 2014

Review: Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Title: Threatened
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publishing Date: February 25, 2014
Pages/Format: 288, eARC

Into the jungle. Into the wild. Into harm's way.

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. 


Initial Reaction of Book in One Word: WANT.

As was the case with Endangered (the first in a quartet of great ape books, with each focusing on a different one: bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas), Threatened is not your average YA novel. It's a fine, well-written piece of realistic fiction that reads almost like a compelling non-fiction novel, and it has a purpose: to raise awareness of something that's very important.

"But there were people out there."

Threatened tells the story of Luc, an orphaned teenager (I think that's his age) living day to day in Franceville, a city in Gabon (a small country in Africa, I believe). He spends his days trying to make money to pay off his debut so he can gain freedom from the orphan-taker-inner, Monsieur Tatagani. After Luc's mother died of the worm, he was put in Tatagani's care (a wretched man, by the way) until he could pay off his mother's hospital bill. But after his little sister dies, too, Luc finds himself without a family and alone in the world, except for the fellow orphans in Tatagani's care.

"'Do you know where England is?' Of course I did. 
It was where James Bond was from."

But things change when Luc tries to steal from Prof, a professor who's going Inside (the jungle is Inside, and what's not is Outside) to study chimpanzees, or what Luc calls mock men. Luc ends up going with Prof into the jungle, and it's there that he stumbles into more than just the wilderness: chimpanzees, a different kind of life, and a family.

"It always amazed me how many animals were hidden in the jungle even when it seemed its emptiest."

I don't know if you know this about me, but I have MEGA LOVE for animals. Like, if I had to choose between saving an animal or a human in a fire, I'd probably choose the animal. (Okay, not really. Maybe.) So I was immediately drawn to this set of Schrefer's books because they had a large focus on animals, and not just any animals, but primates! Or, more specifically, apes! (THEY ARE NOT MONKEYS, PEOPLE.) And I love primates, even more so after taking a Primatology class. So these books, they SPEAK to me.

"Humans are animals, too, you know."

And Threatened did something very special. I was reading these scenes where Luc observes and interacts with the chimpanzees, and I thought to myself, "Gosh, I WANT that. I want it BAD." Once upon a time, my college plan was to major in Zoology. (Though you don't need that degree to work in a zoo, but that's a different story.) Then it was to major in Creative Writing and minor in Zoology. Then I dropped the Zoology bit. And as I read this book, I wondered why on earth I dropped Zoology. When I took some Anthropology classes to receive my Associate's Degree, I LOVED them. And I decided I wasn't going to be satisfied if I didn't take those kinds of classes again, so now I've put Zoology back on the table. And it's mainly because of this book.

"They were here for the chimps."

Now, back to the book itself. (Sorry for the side note! But that's kind of the point: this book makes you feel something toward these magnificent creatures, and it makes you more aware of the horrors that are done to them.) Threatened has a wonderful cast of characters, most of which are not human. (Though chimpanzees do share 98.7 percent of our DNA.) There's Luc, the somewhat troubled POV, and one I did not mind being in the head of. As was mentioned earlier, he goes on an adventure with Prof, an interesting man who I really liked. I also thought that the relationship--not quite father/son, but a good friendly one--between the two was great. Prof, however, did not start off on his own. He has his own sidekick, a pet vervet named Omar. (Now, THAT is a monkey.) I know primates aren't meant to be pets, but my gosh, I loved Omar and I WANT ONE. There's also a handful of chimpanzees, with two main ones: Drummer and his little sister Mango. I loved them both so much, and they each played such important parts in this story. (And I'm totally jealous of the interactions Luc had with them.)

"I patted him on the top of his head. He startled, then calmed and nodded. He patted his own head. So I patted it again. He patted himself. I patted him again. He grunted contentedly."

Part of what makes Threatened so great is the fact that you can feel for these characters and they all have such wonderful personalities and they're all a prominent part of the story...yet most of them aren't human. And there's something that's just so AWESOME about reading a book where you observe these characters and want to see them on every page and you root for them yet they're not your average character--they don't even speak a human language! (But they do speak in their own way.)

"Kings and queens rose and fell at the hands of heroes and villains. Promising infants found greatness or died early, whether at the whims of nature or the schemes of conniving aunts. [Jane Goodall's] characters lived lives worthy of Shakespeare; only they were real, and they were apes." [From the Author's Note]

I don't want to say too much about this book because I want you to experience it for yourself. But come on, how could you NOT want to read it?! It has CHIMPANZEES! It takes place in the JUNGLE! There's a pet vervet! Threatened will give you so much: adventure, fear, smiles, tears, love, and more. The book itself has love and romance, but not the kind you're thinking: it's the romance of friendship and family. Threatened tells the story of a boy and some primates in the jungle, but it also teaches. (Bonus: There's an author's note explaining some parts of the story, and it includes some books I have read and shows I'd recommend myself: In the Shadow of Man, Next of KinEscape to Chimp Eden.)

"'You know,' Prof said, whispering like he'd wandered into a private home and was worried about being overheard, 'when you think about it, all survival stories that end happily 
are also family stories.'"

I'll be honest: this book did start out a little slow for me, and I'm not sure if I love it like I did Endangered. However, when I started this book, it wasn't something I was in the mood for. Threatened isn't some fluffy book: it's more serious, but it's written in a way that works. And once I got into it, I started to fall for so many of the characters. At one point, I was actually AFRAID to finish this book because I feared it would break my heart. (By the way, that ending, MY HEART.) I just hope that you give this book a chance, even if it isn't something you'd usually read. Please remember that animals are people, too--they live, they have family and feelings, etc. And this book helps to show just how human some animals really are. Also, I'm SUPER EXCITED to see what Eliot Schrefer does with the next two books in this quartet--orangutans, then gorillas! Now, I could talk about this book and animals for forever, but I need to figure out how I can live in the wild with primates...

"I wanted to live inside that book."

Did I like it? YES!
Did I love it? In a way, yes? It's sometimes hard to love books like this. But it was very good!
Would I reread it? I wouldn't say no!
Would I purchase it? Absolutely.
Who would I recommend it to? Everyone, especially animal lovers.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and that in no way sways my opinion of the book.

2 comments:

  1. Ahh, what a great review! I'm picking this one up this weekend! And sidenote: it's great to hear you're keeping zoology on the table!! I may be biased, but keeping your passions forefront in your life (in whatever capacity you can!) is always a great decision. You *never* know how it will serve you in the long run, in ways that may surprise even you! You can mix up ALL of your interests, no matter what anyone says! Brava! :D

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  2. I love when a book ends up meaning so much to the readers and it sounds like this book did that for you! How special and amazing! The books itself sounds great too and good luck with that Zoology thing if you decide to go back to it!

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