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14 Jun 2018

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

REVIEW BY ALYSON BAKER

Endangered is a Young Adult novel: Sophie, 14, splits her time between the United States, where she lives with her father, and the Democratic Republic of Congo where she visits her Mother in the holidays. Her mother runs a Bonobo sanctuary out of Kinshasa. Sophie is pretty savvy about the dangers and corruption in the Congo, but that doesn’t stop her paying a trafficker for an infant Bonobo on the way from the airport to her mother’s sanctuary, a Bonobo she names Otto.

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Her mother is very angry that Sophie has paid a trafficker – but that is only the beginning of Sophie’s troubles. When her mother leaves to take some of the sanctuary Bonobos to release them, and the President is assassinated, Sophie is on the list for UN evacuation. But Sophie can’t leave Otto, so she stays with him: initially hiding out behind the electric fence of the sanctuary with the other Bonobos, and eventually trying to make it overland to meet up with her mother at the release site near a small village outside of Mbandaka. Sophie must learn to get by like a Bonobo, and so Endangered also tells the story about Bonobos, their behaviours, their community structure and their plight. The reader also reads of the (imagined but imaginable) nightmare of political instability in the Congo following a Presidential assassination. Schrefer does not shy away from the violence, dangers or tragedy of the Congo and its history, not the horrific details of the dangers Bonobos face in the Congo, their only home country.

Endangered is movingly written, is not without humour, and you really empathise with Sophie and Otto. Sophie might start out thinking she knows all about the dangers of the Congo, but by the end of the novel she has lived through many of them first hand. The novel also raises tricky moral questions: Do you refuse to pay a trafficker and ignore one life that is in front of you, knowing that paying will be an incentive for the trafficker to take more lives? Or do you do anything to save that one life? Endangered is engrossing, informative, moving and very sad.