Sophie’s life is about to change. A terrifying race for survival would be a challenge for anyone, let alone a fourteen-year-old with a baby bonobo on her back. It begins with her annual summer visit to her mom who lives in The Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. Her mom is responsible for a sanctuary for bonobos, a type of great ape very closely related to humans. Actually, Sophie spent the first chunk of her life there with her African mom and American dad, but then moved to Miami with her dad when her parents divorced. On the drive through town from the airport to the sanctuary, Sophie sees a ragged man trying to sell a baby bonobo who is in bad shape, dehydrated, starving, scabby, and scared. Sophie pulls out what money she has in her pocket, buys the endangered ape and names him Otto.
"This story needs to be heard. ENDANGERED will reach deep into the reader’s heart and soul, never to be forgotten."
Next begins the struggle to keep Otto alive. He desperately needs fluids, food, medical care and most important of all, love. Baby bonobos don’t do well if taken from their mothers, so Sophie becomes Otto’s surrogate mother. They are inseparable, together 24/7; Otto completely freaks if Sophie leaves his sight for even a minute. He heals and begins to thrive as their love and familial bond strengthen. Unfortunately, Sophie’s summer vacation is dwindling and she will soon have to return to Miami for school. The plan is to slowly transfer their relationship to one of the other surrogate mothers at the sanctuary who cares for bonobo orphans. But they never get the chance to do so.
Chaos erupts when invading armies attack. Sophie’s mom is away delivering some adult bonobos to a safe release site when the war edges close to the sanctuary. Sophie tries to leave the country with the help of the U.N., but when she can’t take Otto with her, she refuses the opportunity for safety; Otto would surely not survive if he loses yet another family without having bonded to another surrogate. But then the armies overrun the sanctuary, and Sophie and Otto barely escape into the jungle with their lives. They have only each other as they struggle to survive.
Eliot Schrefer first began learning about bonobos when curiosity hit about the brand name of his bonobo pants. His interest eventually spurred him to take a trip to a bonobo sanctuary in Africa. While this story is fiction, the bonobo behaviors, living conditions and military situations in this African country are based in fact. Schrefer paints a painful picture of both the people and animals attempting to survive the conditions of a war torn country, so different from the average American life. He weaves formidable images with solid writing to create an intriguing, genuine and crucial tale. This story needs to be heard. ENDANGERED will reach deep into the reader’s heart and soul, never to be forgotten.
Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on October 2, 2012