I passed up on this book several times at the library before a cover blurb from Colum McCann swayed me Thank you Mr McCann.
I loved this debut novel Greenidge writes about race, family, sisterhood, love and loneliness with such a fresh voice and within such an engaging and unusual story that I fell in love immediately I wish I had better words Just read it.
A FINALIST FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE AND THE YOUNG LIONS AWARD A Terrifically Auspicious Debut Janet Maslin, The New York Times Smart, Timely And Powerful A Rich Examination Of America S Treatment Of Race, And The Ways We Attempt To Discuss And Confront It Today The Huffington Post The Freeman Family Charles, Laurel, And Their Daughters, Teenage Charlotte And Nine Year Old Callie Have Been Invited To The Toneybee Institute To Participate In A Research Experiment They Will Live In An Apartment On Campus With Charlie, A Young Chimp Abandoned By His Mother The Freemans Were Selected Because They Know Sign Language They Are Supposed To Teach It To Charlie And Welcome Him As A Member Of Their Family But When Charlotte Discovers The Truth About The Institute S History Of Questionable Studies, The Secrets Of The Past Invade The Present In Devious Ways The Power Of This Shattering Novel Resides In Greenidge S Undeniable Storytelling Talents What Appears To Be A Story Of Mothers And Daughters, Of Sisterhood Put To The Test, Of Adolescent Love And Grown Up Misconduct, And Of History S Long Reach, Becomes A Provocative And Compelling Exploration Of America S Failure To Find A Language To Talk About Race A Magnificently Textured, Vital, Visceral Feat Of Storytelling By A Sharp, Poignant, Extraordinary New Voice Of American Literature T A Obreht, Author Of The Tiger S Wife I read this mostly to compare it with We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which it resembles in the barest facts the Freemans are raising Charlie, a chimpanzee, as part of their family for a Toneybee Institute experiment and teaching him to communicate via sign language I liked this so much than Fowler s inexplicably Booker Prize shortlisted novel, which felt gimmicky because it relies so heavily on the surprise reveal of sister Fern as a chimp Greenidge s debut novel, by contrast, is a rich and unsettling story of human human interactions, even so than human animal interactions.
The main action is set near Boston in 1990, when primary narrator Charlotte is a 14 year old trying to come to grips with being one of only two black students in her new high school Her mother, Laurel, and little sister Callie, nine, are particularly enad with Charlie but show it in socially unacceptable ways Flashbacks to the late 1920s bring an uncomfortable racial subtext to the surface, suggesting that the Toneybee has been involved in dodgy anthropological research over the decades I loved the narrator of these sections, Nymphadora I do not wish my own skin was white What I envy is not their skin but their insouciance , and the Thanksgiving dinner sequence at the Toneybee is simply fantastic I was a tiny bit disappointed with how things end, but I still think this is a great first novel and I will follow Greenidge s career with interest.
Further reading There s a fantastic interview with the author at Rumpus and another at Foreword also see this Kirkus feature and her BuzzFeed article about her father s death.
I ll start by saying that I tend to steer clear of books in the library with the African American sticker across the spine With a handful of exceptions, most tend to revolve around slavery or hood life and neither are subjects I enjoy However, the cover and title of We Love You, Charlie Freeman caught my attention and after reading the first few pages I knew this wasn t the typical African American fiction I was used to There s a lot going on here The theme revolves around race but there s so much Tension racial sexual familial class Everyone in this book is vying for attention but only one seems to get it and once he gets it, in the end, he still isn t satisfied So many issues throughout but really it s just a story about a family that starts off fairly normal and becomes dysfunctional in an attempt to make history It can and will make you uncomfortable but race, sex, and family secrets usually do Do yourself a favor read this and open your mind to what s going on in the world just a little.
RATING 2 slightly fractured stars.
REVIEW I wanted to like this book, I really did Since I first heard about it prior to it s release, I ve been looking forward to reading We Love You, Charlie Freeman The premise of the book is intriguing and the hype promised a story about communication, race, and history Unfortunately, what was written was simultaneously too much and not enough, a story stretched thin.
The story of the Freemans begins on their way to the Toneybee Institute in the early 1990s It s clear that this isn t a happy move for the entire family, specifically who is supposed to be our main narrator, Charlotte, the eldest daughter It s a promising start, and soon we are traveling back in time to get to know the mom, Laurel, and how the family became proficient in sign language Then even farther back to Nymphadora, in 1929, to show us the times and town surrounding the beginning of the Institute There is a mysterious air traveling through the different times and characters, an expectation of and a place where all the threads converge This is where the story starts to fracture.
Charlie Freeman, our resident chimpanzee, and the teaching of sign language, quickly falls by the wayside to make room for a myriad of other themes We meet new characters, each introduced with an opinion or agenda that is never fully formed The story seems to skip as if entire chapters were cut out I was never quite sure what the author was trying to convey She touched on a number of different points and explored them only briefly, there wasn t enough time or depth spent on them There was too much to work with and not enough words to finish the book.
My most problematic point was actually the mother, Laurel It s easy to understand her background and motives for moving her family to the Institute to participate in this experiment, but that is where the understanding ends Her every action once she is with Charlie is baffling There is no explanation or clue to lead the reader to a deeper comprehension of her character, and because of that the story itself starts to fold in on itself.
Putting all that aside, the book is actually well written The words flowed extremely well and there were times when I would lose myself in the pages The author shows an amazing amount of promise I just think that overall, the story wasn t well explored Still, I will be on the lookout for another Kaitlyn Greenidge novel, because I think that there are better things to come.
This book was a surprise for me I went in knowing nothing other than there was a chimpanzee in the story Yep, that s it And it s that but so much it s a novel that explores race, family dynamics, identity and so much I don t want to discuss it too much because I think I enjoyed it since I knew nothing about it Just trust me it s good Definitely worth picking up
This book was downright exciting in the way the author kept throwing curves at us, not taking the plot and characters where I expected them to go A heart rending read, but how could an exploration of American racism be anything else This book worked as both an actual story and a historical allegory And the first person rationalizations of one particular character were absolutely chilling Brava, Kaitlyn Greenidge Do not be fooled by this warm and fuzzy title This is an amazing mess of a book It does not hold your hand and talk sweetly to you while you walk a well trodden path It is running out ahead of you through dense jungle and you aren t sure you can keep up, oh and you have no idea where it is you re going It s the kind of book where anything could happen at any moment, where there s this feeling of tension that lies under the surface Not like a thriller where someone suddenly reveals they re about to blow up a building No, this tension is knowing that so many things are wrong, so many things are close to breaking, that at any moment everything could fall apart and when that happens you don t know what it will look like I love the messiness of it, I love the craziness of Charlotte and Callie s stories There is no flinching or holding back This book just goes for it It takes risks, it doesn t follow a formula, it doesn t feel like anything else you ve read It s unusual that after a book is over I want to ask its author a hundred questions, but in this case I really do It got my brain moving, it got me off kilter, and that so rarely happens.
5 Stars Edited to Add After reading both this book and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves I ve come to the conclusion that no matter what your family dysfunction is chimpanzees are not the answer