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Monday, February 9, 2015

Threatened, by Eliot Schrefer. Scholastic, 2014. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"I kept yelling, to keep noise coming out. It was having an effect: Drummer reared, repulsed, like I was spraying him with water. He started backing from the clearing, still barking, but more quietly now. Then, with a crashing of foliage, he disappeared into a thicket and was gone. Mango squeaked in panic and fear. Again I lay low, palms upturned ... "

Luc is s street boy when we meet him, searching for family and a home. He is an orphan, indentured to a local debt collector to pay off his mother's medical bills that grew exponentially more expensive as she lost her battle with AIDS. Now, he works for Monsieur Tatagani to keep from starving to death.

A fortuitous meeting with the Prof, a researcher for the National Geographic Society, soon has Luc accompanying him into the jungles of Gabon in search of a large group of chimpanzees for observation and study. The Prof wants the world to know more about their threatened existence. The research team is small - the Prof, Luc and the Prof's vervet monkey Omar. Soon after they set up camp they begin to meet with the family of chimps that live in the neighborhood. Their first encounters are frightening; together they must set the boundaries for the relationship that they establish.  As they come to understand one another, Luc notes that the chimps are very humane. They protect each other with aggressive posturing, and also prove to be kind with very unique and distinct personalities. Luc spends many hours observing, developing lasting relationships with the mock men, and helping to  protect them from hunters and other dangers.

This book is so beautifully researched and wonderfully written that the reader feels drawn directly to the Inside (the jungle) where humans are not supposed to be. The deep wild of the jungle that eventually embraces the Prof and Luc is a wondrous place and the community they forge with the chimpanzees is the first to have real meaning for Luc.

I was drawn from page to page with alarming speed; at times, I had to put the book down to take a breath and slow my heart rate. The characters, both human and chimpanzee, are intricately drawn so that we feel an empathy toward each and we root for them to forge lasting relationships and a peaceful community. Through his characterization of the chimps that become an important part of Luc's life, we see how closely they do resemble humans, in kindness and in hostile, destructive behavior.

Character driven and fast paced, this is a survival story that is certain to win new fans for Mr. Schrefer and might lead those who haven't read his other works to find them at the library and get busy!  It is a most worthwhile pursuit.

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