By Eliot Schrefer
Published by Scholastic Press
Copyright © 2014
With a title like “THREATENED” you would expect a book that is suspenseful, and then you see a cute little chimp hanging from a tree and your next thought is “awwww, poor chimp. This must be an ecological novel.” It is, in part, but it is also so much more than that. It is a novel about running from and confronting your fears, it is about making a family and a home, and it is about saving Chimpanzees.
Luc has always been afraid of the chimpanzees that lived in the jungle near his home. Their yells, shrieks, and cries would terrify him and he would huddle up with his mother who would warn him, “‘this is why you must always be home before dark, Luc. If you’re not, you’ll become one of the kivili-chimpenze.’ The Mock Men.” Though he still fears the chimpanzee, Luc has more pressing fears now, like finding enough to eat and avoiding Monsieur Tatagani’s beatings. Monsieur Tatagani is a money lender who takes advantage of indebted orphans. Soon Luc will have to deal with both fears, when a kindly “professor” trick’s Tatagani and takes Luc into the jungle with him to study the chimpanzees.
Our protagonist, Luc, is threatened with imminent harm from people and the jungle, the Chimpanzees are threatened with loss of home and extinction, and the professor is threatened by his past catching up to him. This novel lives up to its title, but underneath all the threats lies hope. How do you keep hope when you’ve lost everything, when you are beaten, and when you are afraid. By finding something new to care about, and Luc finds that in the Jungles of Gabon.
I really appreciated the realism with which the author portrays Chimps in this novel. While they are simpler than humans, they are still quite complex animals with varying personalities. Our experience with them in books, on television, and from a distance at zoos, along with that all too human face, make them seem docile and kind, but in truth Chimpanzees can be very aggressive and dangerous. That danger is in part because they are 4 times stronger than a comparable human. Knowing these things about the Chimpanzee makes this book even more suspenseful. While reading this I imagined myself sitting in a canvas tent in the middle of the jungle, hearing the chimpanzees in the treetops above, and wondering if one of these unpredictable creatures would tear through my flimsy shelter. There really are some terrifying moments in this book that are terrifying because they are based in reality.
But again this book goes beyond the fear factor and it shows you the human factor, which is really interesting in comparison to the Chimpanzees which it is set against. This is one of those books that make you consider man’s place in nature. It makes you consider man’s inability to be peaceful. But it also gives the reader hope because it reminds us that there are people out there who overcome adversity, and there are people who make a difference.
Threatened is one of those great stories that make you want to know what would have happened to the main character had the story continued. I think about it every time I share this book with someone. What if Luc had… I don’t want to give away the ending, but just know that this is a story that will stick with you.