REVIEW: We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
May 20, 2016
SYNOPSIS: The Freeman family--Charles, Laurel, and their daughters, teenage Charlotte and nine-year-old Callie--have been invited to the Toneybee Institute in rural Massachusetts 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 for the experiment because they know sign language; they are supposed to teach it to Charlie and welcome him as a member of their family.
Isolated in their new, nearly all-white community not just by their race but by their strange living situation, the Freemans come undone. And when Charlotte discovers the truth about the Institute’s history of questionable studies, the secrets of the past begin to invade the present.
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 more 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 more 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.