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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Endangered, written by Eliot Schrefer. Scholastic, 2012. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"As we pulled in, crowds of butterflies burst into the air, swirling and settling in flecks of color against a backdrop of vivid green. As I stepped out with the bonobo, he stared at the butterflies passionlessly, but his eyes did dart around as he watched them. I decided this was a good sign and rocked him cheeringly in my arms as I held him close."

Sophie is in Congo after spending the school term in Miami with her father. She has come to spend the summer with her mother who runs a sanctuary for bonobos. Sophie is not happy.

In the capital city of Kinshasa, she and her driver are approached by a trafficker with a young, disease-ridden bonobo for sale. Despite warnings, Sophie gives him the price he asks and rescues Otto. That one action is the catalyst for the harrowing ordeal that she and Otto are about to face. Her mother doesn't like that her daughter paid for the ape, but she is pleased to see the bond that the two soon have with each other.

The summer holiday passes quickly and with only a week left, Sophie's mother must leave her with the sanctuary staff while she takes some rehabilitated bonobos to be released into their natural environment. When civil war breaks out, the sanctuary is no longer safe. Sophie refuses a chance to board a UN flight to the United States in order to stay with Otto. The sanctuary is overtaken by militants, the workers are murdered and Sophie must find safety and sustenance in the surrounding jungle. How she does that and how she sets out on a journey to find her mother hundreds of miles away is a story of terror and survival.

Eliot Schrefer has used his knowledge of Congo, bonobos, and great storytelling to write a tale that will have readers on the edge of their seats with every turn of the page. The events are terrifying, and at times graphic. Civil war, animal poaching, hunger and fear force Sophie to grow up quickly. She learns life lessons from the bonobos and we learn much about these apes who share 98% of our DNA.
When she is finally reunited with her mother, we know that Sophie is a stronger, more empathetic and loving person than she was when we first met her.

The characters are not without flaws, but we are totally drawn under their spell and care tremendously about what happens to them. I know so much more about bonobos than I did before I read this wonderful book, feeling almost as if I were sometimes holding Otto and hearing him softly 'murp' for me.
I will leave you with this video from Eliot Schrefer...he says it all so much more eloquently than I have:

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