Book Review: We Love You, Charlie Freeman-Kaitlyn Greenidge

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I’ve been really enjoying reading books by blacks authors this summer. Each author has delivered a unique and interesting perspective into black ancestry, history, and culture. When it comes to African American ancestry, it often turns into a painful reminder that so much of our culture and history was eradicated by white people.  This summer has been about loving, embracing, re-seeking and reclaiming our history through the various types of books I have read. Diversifying your reading is so important on many different aspects as it allows you to gain a better perspective on a multitude of races. In her debut novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman, author Kaitlyn Greenidge ties race, family, sisterhood, ancestry into a story that is both interesting and enlightening.

The Freemans family journey to the Toneybee Institute in Massachusetts to take part in a social experiment by raising Charlie, a chimpanzee as a part of their family.  Part of the research and experiment is to teach Charlie sign language which the family is well versed in. The Freemans must start a new life in a secluded neighborhood and apartment, quite different from life they had previously known. The story focuses on a few perspectives, but the primary narrator Charlotte gives the reader her perspective on how she deals with being the only black girl in a very white surrounding, as well as adjusting as a freshman at a new school. Each family deals with the research experiment in their own way, but when a deep secret is revealed about the project, everyone is affected and reacts differently. Greenidge uses many literary devices to raise important questions about race and black ancestry. Throughout the story there are flashbacks to a woman named Nymphadora who helped the Toneybee Institute, although in a grotesque and exploitive way. Greenidge places heavy weights on the pages, but does it in a way to not deter her readers and keeps them intrigued throughout the duration of the novel.

When I read this was Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel, I was so impressed with the quality of writing she exemplifies. You can tell she did her research; and she writes so thoroughly and clean she easily can pass as a seasoned writer. I love that she talks about race and ancestry in a unique way, that doesn’t seem to scream a very wearying rhetoric of “American slavery during the nineteenth century.” She doesn’t write about a family raising a chimp, but a black family raising a chimp which draws interesting comparisons scientists have conducted throughout the ages on black people. I also enjoyed how she brought up race in way that didn’t feel like a hammer hitting your head, but you definitely felt the weight of her words. This book is layered, and although some of the layers are hard to understand, they are vital and necessary in order to tell this story. Charlotte’s narration was by far my favorite as she was so introspective and inquisitive. There was also the layer of Charlie the chimpanzee being a family member but also a science project, loved but also probed. The relationships and themes in the novel seem to be placed in a petri dish and peered at through a microscopic lens which allows the author to conduct an experiment on her readers as well. How science and history often go hand in hand, and the author does a fantastic job drawing these two things together. Greenidge is one to watch, and I’m thrilled to have taken part in her first novel. I’m a fan of this book and would recommended this to anyone wanting something out of the ordinary. Praise to the author Kaitlyn Greenidge and her novel that is both progressive and nods to the historicism.

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