This is a spoiler-tastic review.
Proceed with caution.
Can you complain that a book about a family adopting a chimpanzee is predictable? I think I’ve spent too much time reading about behavioral studies and animal behavior because I knew about quite a few of the real-life chimps this book seemed to take inspiration from, including poor Nim Chimpsky who seems to be the primary source for the novel. But it’s less the science that’s predictable; this chimp’s sister, the protagonist of our book, has a well-trod plot.
It’s hard to review this book because so much of its elegance comes from its gradual revelations of plot points; notably, we’re a quarter of the way through when Rosemary reveals that the imaginary friend she used as a child to get attention away from her sister Fern is a chimp. “Then again, so was Fern.” I had to do a double take reading because until this point the book read like any Serious Fiction ™ about Family Relationships ™, so the revelation of Fern’s true nature was a legitimate surprise.
Rosemary feels as though she is to blame for the dissolution of her family, as Fern’s exclusion from the family is slowly shown to be a result of something Rosemary told her parents, and her brother likewise blamed her at the time.
HERE THERE BE MEGA SPOILERS
Of course Rosemary was not to blame for Fern’s exclusion from the family; the chimp had exhibited violent tendencies and the research project’s conclusion meant there was no one reason anyone was to “blame.”
I’ve seen that story one time too many for it to have deep impact. This was very well written, but I’m glad I went into the story with no foreknowledge of what the book was about, the surprise was much of the joy.