by Sharon Kane
We first meet our narrator, Rosemary, as a college student in 1996, and much of the action in this novel by Karen Joy Fowler (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013) takes place over the following few weeks. Her brother, whom she hasn’t seen for years, appears, though he is using a false name since he is wanted by the FBI and is involved in activism (some would say domestic terrorism) related to animal rights. She also acquires a new, strange, friend, complicating her life significantly. Some distant memories are activated, and she tells them to us even as she is trying to figure out whether those memories are reliable and what they might mean.
We come to find out that Rosemary had been raised alongside a chimpanzee; Fern was her age, and treated as a member of the family for 5 years. Her father was a psychologist, and the family was participating in a grand experiment. But something obviously went wrong. Fern was taken away. Why? Where did she go? Why was Rosemary’s older brother so angry with her? Why were her parents so silent on the subject? And what action should she take at this point? What exactly is one’s identity when one’s sister is a chimp?
I wish I could tell you more about the mystery and Rosemary’s actions, but that would involve spoilers. I’ll just say I learned a lot about animal behavior and about psychology experiments that took place in the seventies. I felt like I was experiencing the moral and social dilemmas along with Rosemary as she dealt with her flawed parents and troubled brother. And, best of all, I got to know and love Fern.
I would classify this novel as “New Adult Literature,” a genre with appeal for readers roughly from ages 17-25. The book is a crossover between adult and YA fiction; it is well crafted and thought-provoking. In short, I found it a great story told by a smart and funny narrator.
Appropriate for high school and beyond