books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Luc is an AIDS orphan in Gabon when he meets the mysterious man he calls Prof.  The man claims to be on an important mission to study chimpanzees deep in the jungle.  Though Luc’s mother had warned him of the “mock men” in the trees when he was a boy, Luc goes with the Prof after he buys his freedom from the evil man who takes in orphans and makes them pay a debt to him.  Once in the jungle, Luc realizes that the “mock men” of his youth are actually incredible creatures who are fighting to stay alive against threats natural and man-made.  Those creatures become the family he has lost.

Schrefer’s companion novel to the National Book Award finalist Endangered offers readers another fascinating tale of survival in a dangerous place.  This one has also been named a National Book Award finalist, and it’s easy to see why: gripping, poignant, and heart-breakingly sad, this is a knockout of a novel guaranteed to keep readers glued to the pages.

Luc’s story, and the story of the chimpanzees who become his surrogate family, is both riveting and deeply unsettling.  Luc’s life has been a tragedy, and even in the confines of the jungle, he is not wholly safe.  His strong survival instincts and love for the animals he meets make for an inspiring read.  Although there are moments where Luc’s voice is perhaps too mature for his 12 or 13 years, most readers will completely overlook this, as the story is so engrossing it hardly matters.

Schrefer’s research is on display here.  His attention to detail, rich prose (especially when it comes to describing the landscape), and sensitive and tender portrayal of both Luc and the Prof make for a completely unique read.  This is a standout adventure novel, perfect for animal lovers, nature enthusiasts, and readers who love a bit of armchair travel.

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer.  Scholastic: 2014.  Library copy.

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