We Love You, Charlie Freeman : A Novel
Booklist Reviews 2016 February #2
*Starred Review* When Laurel, an African-American mother from Boston's South Side, accepts a position to teach sign language to a chimpanzee named Charlie at a private ape research facility in the verdant Berkshire Mountains, she unwittingly introduces her two young daughters to a disturbing world of mystery and misogyny, racism and retaliation. The institute's first director in the 1920s used racial profiling to horrific effect, conducting clandestine experiments on black men and seducing a lonely black woman into posing for compromising drawings—all allegedly in the name of science. Some 70 years later, Laurel's teenage daughter, Charlotte, and her youngest daughter, Callie, will find themselves caught in a struggle that pits their own blossoming desire for identity and belonging against their mother's mania for Charlie's attention and a society that has yet to acknowledge the insidious ways bigotry and discrimination undermine its most basic institutions. Greenidge's wondrous first novel pits the sins of the past against the desire for the future in a multifaceted narrative that challenges concepts of culture and communication. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
PW Reviews 2016 January #3
Greenidge's ambitious debut novel is the multiperspective story of the Toneybee Institute, a converted music school in western Massachusetts ostensibly specializing in fostering communication between chimpanzees and humans. The Freemans—Laurel, Charles, and their two daughters, Charlotte and Callie—are a family recruited to the institute from the Boston area in 1990 on account of their skill at sign language, the methodology chosen for a new experiment. Although no members of the family are deaf, Laurel learned sign language at a young age as a result of her distrust of spoken language, growing up in Maine as the only black girl in a hundred-mile radius, and she has passed along this method of communication to her daughters. At the Toneybee Institute, the Freemans welcome a chimpanzee named Charlie into their family and begin an effort to earn his trust and, eventually, teach him to speak. Narrated mostly by Charlotte, a high school freshman, the story moves back and forth in time as we learn the secrets of the institute's disturbing and shocking past. The narrative structure is somewhat schematic, the pieces fitting together almost too perfectly as information is withheld to provide tension. However, the themes of communication across differences is nonetheless deftly constructed, encompassing weighty issues such as race, language, sexuality, and the intersections of religion and science, arriving finally at a heartbreaking confrontation. The end result is a sobering look at how we communicate with one another and what inevitably gets lost in translation. (Mar.)[Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC