BookPage Top Pick in Teen Books, March 2014

Somewhere deep within the African jungles of Gabon, a young street boy searches for a family, a home and a purpose beyond simply fighting for survival. While Threatened is the account of his learning to survive in the wild, it’s also the tale of his learning to trust and accept others, even if they don’t share the same genus and species.

Luc—an AIDS-orphaned child of the slums who’s only vaguely aware of his own age—was sold to a local debt collector as an indentured servant to pay off his mother’s hospital bills for her unsuccessful care. Barely scraping by, Luc one day befriends an Arab professor and researcher from the National Geographic Society who appears at the bar where Luc works illegally for pocket change. The “Prof,” as Luc calls him, has traveled to Gabon—home of the largest concentration of chimpanzees in the world—in hopes of becoming the next Jane Goodall and bringing more national attention to the chimps’ fragile existence.

Prof uses cunning and deceit to procure Luc from the debt collector as his research assistant. Prof, Omar (his pet vervet monkey) and Luc set up camp in the middle of the rainforest and fortuitously stumble upon a small family of chimpanzees. As Luc observes the wild beasts that once haunted his nightmares, he learns firsthand of their humanity—from their ferocity as much as from their kindness and personalities—and develops better relationships with them than he ever has with people. But with hunters and far worse dangers surrounding them, Luc must constantly put his life on the line to protect this blended family he’s come to love.

Author Eliot Schrefer, whose novel Endangered was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award, combines his interest in conservation and education in Threatened—his eighth novel overall and the second in his Great Ape Quartet—to draw his readers ever nearer to the edge of this primitive, natural world. He asks us to jump with him into the unencumbered jungle to see all the beauty and mystery that only the wild can offer.

 

Justin Barisich is a freelancer, satirist, poet and performer living in Atlanta. More of his writing can be found at littlewritingman.com.

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