Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Fern and Rosemary were raised as sisters for the first five years of their lives.  Then Fern had to leave the family, and this book deals largely with her departure and subsequent whereabouts.  Fern is a chimpanzee who learns sign language, wears human clothes, becomes potty-trained, and functions as a full member of the Cooke family, in which the father is a psychologist.  Rosemary narrates this story during her college years.  Her brother Lowell disappeared several years earlier, probably to engage in animal rights activism.  Neither sibling has gotten over Fern’s removal from the family, and we don’t learn what led to her departure until late in the novel.  Rosemary has some social issues, perhaps partly due to the grief of being separated from Fern, but more from having spent her early childhood with a chimp for a sister.  Rosemary as a child was a chatterbox for one thing, but she also adopted some chimp-like behaviors, such as touching someone’s hair, that made her a bit of a problem child during her early school years.  Now that she’s in college and in need of friends, she lands in jail with Harlow, a fellow student with behavioral problems of her own.  The beginning of the book is very funny, but things get darker in a hurry, and my enthusiasm for the book went downhill with the change of tone.  I certainly found it very disturbing that a chimp raised completely with loving humans would suddenly be thrust into an environment that was completely foreign to her.  Then again, cats do not fare too well in this novel, either.  All in all, for most of us it’s easier to read about the mistreatment of people than the mistreatment of helpless animals.

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