by Eliot Schrefer
Hardcover, 272 pages
The bonobo is a great ape that, along with its cousin the chimpanzee, is the closest extant relative to humans. They inhabit the forests and swamps south of the Congo River and are known for their relative peacefulness. Ironic and interesting, then, that this story is set in the midst of a violent and brutal civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sophie, the mixed-race daughter of an estranged American father and Congolese mother, visits her mother’s Bonobo sanctuary deep in the forest. On the way she, herself, acquires an abused and orphaned young bonobo, Otto, and they bond like super-glue. Her mom heads out on a field trip and the rag-tag rebels arrive with machetes and firearms. She and Otto escape and embark on a harrowing trek to find mom. There is a lot in here about bonobos and about the legacy of human dysfunction and terror left by King Leopold and his European colonial counterparts. In another life we visited the orangutan sanctuaries in Sumatra and Borneo and experienced first-hand the awful tension between serving the needs of destitute humans and those of endangered primates. This book won the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award for Children's Literature for 2013 and was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award.