Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ape House, Sara Gruen (3.5 stars)

From Amazon: Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn't understand people, but apes she gets—especially the bonobos Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena, who are capable of reason and communication through American Sign Language. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she's ever felt among humans—until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter writing a human interest feature. But when an explosion rocks the lab, John's piece turns into the story of a lifetime—and Isabel must connect with her own kind to save her family of apes from a new form of human exploitation.

It’s hard not to judge a book by the author’s others, and that’s what happened with Ape House. Had I read it before Water for Elephants, I might have felt differently. Each book had some of the same themes, and Water for Elephants was the better showcase of Sara Gruen’s storytelling talents. 

Isabel Duncan is dedicated to her bonobo family both on a scientific level and a personal one. Unfortunately, she’s up against misguided people worried about the ethical treatment of the animals and some money-hungry individuals.

Everything comes crashing down when the lab is attacked and Isabel ends up in the hospital with horrible injuries. While she’s recuperating, the bonobos are sold to the highest bidder and end up on a reality show, Ape House. John is a reporter assigned to the case, but becomes much more involved when he connects with Isabel and the bonobos.  

If the story had remained centered on the bonobos and Isabel, this would be a 4- to 5-star read. Unfortunately, it veered off course with too much focus on John’s wife, Amanda, and his possible child from a fling years earlier.

From the front cover, “A tale that’s full of heart, hope, and compelling questions about who we really are.” (Redbook) I don’t disagree; it was all of these things. But I found myself disconnecting when it wasn’t about Isabel. I wanted more detail about her family issues and devotion to these wonderful creatures.

If you love animals and enjoy a quick, interesting read, pick this up and plan to skim some parts. The meat of the story is wonderful and worth your time.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Note: On GoodReads and Amazon, I will rate it 3 stars, because it is closer to 3 than 4.