Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published April 26th, 2016 by Scholastic
Goodreads Summary: The third entry in the taut, heart-wrenching quartet that made Eliot Schrefer a two-time National Book Award finalist introduces us to an orangutan held captive in suburban America.
John grows up with everything he could possibly want. His father is a businessman who travels far and wide. One day, he comes home with a rare gift for his son, a baby orangutan, and the two become inseparable friends. But as the orangutan gets older, stronger, less cute, the family relegates the animal to a locked trailer in the backyard. Until John’s father finally decides to sell the ape to a roadside zoo. Coming to the defense of his childhood friend, John resolves to smuggle the orangutan back to Indonesia, and the two set out on a journey far more dangerous than John bargained for.
My Review: I think out of the three Ape Quartet books published so far, this is the one that is going to hit closest to home for many. It will make many readers uncomfortable and want to make a change. First, it takes place in the United States unlike Africa like the first two. Second, it really digs into an issue that is still very much prominent here–animal injustice.
I find Schrefer’s writing to be so beautiful yet so easy to read. He can pull you into his stories and makes you feel for not only his human characters but also his animal characters. He does such a tremendous amount of research for all of his books and with this one it brings the injustice of Raja alive.
I am a sucker for ape books. I find apes to be the most fascinating animals, and orangutans may be my favorite because they have these amazing eyes that just show me that they are so intelligent and deep thinkers. They are also introverts; I think I just relate to them in that way. This book brings orangutans to life through Raja.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: As evident from Schrefer’s status as a two-time National Book Award finalist, his books can be used as a mentor text for just about any aspect of writing that you are looking for: characterization, imagery, voice, conflict, etc. Read any of his books, and you can pull out so much to discuss and use within the classroom. Additionally, there are some amazing ape books, including Schrefer’s other Ape Quartet books, that would make for an amazing lit circle opportunity or text set.
Discussion Questions: Why does John feel obligated to help Raja?; What would you have done if you were John or John’s mom when the divorce happened? Or when John’s father showed up with Raja?; Why is it better for wild animals to be in the wild?
Flagged Passages: “Every family’s got something weird about it, and mine was no different. We just had to try harder than most to hide it. All it took was someone to walk in the door to see that we had an orangutan. A real-live, orange-brown, TV-obsessed, drinking-grapefruit-juice-from-the-carton orangutan.” (p. 11)
“The truck’s engine rumbled, and the trailer pulled away. I watched it go, stunned.
You did this, I scolded myself. You let this happen.
Sweat had soaked my shirt, ran from the pits down my arms. The heat radiating up from the pavement made me dizzy, even though the perspiration on my brow was chill. I bent over, hands on my knees. I could feel the cords of my neck stand out, straining. Getting ready to start my stomach, at least, back at zero.
I heaved in air, and it sounded like a sob. Then it was a sob. Something huge and dark and terrible came out of me, something that had tamped down for so long that it had become even more huge and dark and terrible.
One last sob came out of me, then all was quiet.
There, slumped in the dirt, was Raja’s old blue elephant. (p. 69-70)
Read This If You Loved: Endangered and Threatened by Eliot Schrefer (Ape Quartet #1 and #2 yet are all stand alone novels), Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby, One and Only Ivan by Kathering Applegate, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, Top Ten Ape Book list from Nerdy Book Club (I’ll be updating here on Unleashing Readers soon)