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Sophie is the child of an African woman and an Italian-American man. Her father moved back to the United States, taking Sophie with him when she was in elementary school. It took her a little while to get used to the States, but she's made friends and a life for herself there. She goes back to the Congo to see her mother on vacations. Sophie's mom runs a bonobo refuge and it provides jobs and security for the region she lives in and it provides a desperately needed service, the preservation of the bonobo.
Just after landing in Africa, while in the car on the way to see her mother at the refuge, and stopped in the paralyzing Congo traffic, 14 year old Sophie sees a man with an extremely ratty looking bonobo. It's illegal to have them and very illegal to sell them. Unfortunately, the Congo can be pretty lawless, depending on who you run into and how honest they are, at the moment. The people are poor and the country has been war torn for a long time. Good people sometimes resort to bad means to feed their families. That sounds like I'm saying they eat the apes, which they sometimes do, but they are endangered and valuable, so more often they try to sell them. Sophie's mom has made it a mission to end the bonobo trafficking. The only way to get one of the baby apes is to kill its parents. Bonobos are very family bonded and killing the parents also usually leads to the death of the child. The man on the bike outside of Sophie's car is asking $100 for the bonobo. Sophie knows its illegal to buy and sell the apes, she also knows it is extremely dangerous to get out of the car for any reason. But, she just happens to have $100 in her pocket to buy notebooks for her friends back in Florida and she does something that haunts her and begins a thought provoking, harrowing and satisfying story. She buys Otto from the trafficker, a big mistake, which she regrets and has no regrets about in equal measure. She regrets her decision because the trafficker goes back into the jungle and kills more adult apes to show up at the refuge with two infant bonobos, a crime Sophie knows she will always feel responsible for.
Sophie never makes it to her mother's house. Now that she's brought in this new ape, she will have to be responsible for him and there's a very good chance he's not going to make it. He's dirty and sick and covered in sores and won't eat. Sophie stays in the bonobo refuge and attempts to nurse her charge back to health. While she's doing that, another war is raging in the Congo. Her mother heads to the jungle to see some of the rehabilitated bonobos released back into the wild on an island where they won't be harmed, leaving Sophie at the refuge to care for Otto for as long as she can before she returns home. Then the power goes out and there is a ragtag group of soldiers roaming on the grounds. The UN makes arrangements for Sophie to be flown off continent and back home while they still hope to be able to guarantee her safety, but she refuses to go without the ape. And, that's when all hell breaks loose.
Sophie and Otto have to try and survive on their own without hope of rescue or any idea of where to go or how to get food or shelter. It's a harrowing tale. I won't ruin it for you, but you should know this book is a page turner. Schrefer crafts a book that you won't want to put down, all while giving you glimpses into the ongoing horrors in parts of Africa and sheds more light on our nearest ape relation, the bonobo. Considering that the bonobo is kind of known as our hyperlibidinous little cousin, Shrefer manages to keep this book completely PG. He doesn't talk down to his reader, all while highlighting the wonders of bonobo society.
I don't care what age group you fall into, you should read this book. It's well written, thought provoking, and truly deserving of its acclaim.
And, now, here are some videos for your enjoyment: