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Review: Ape House, by Sara Gruen

Gruen put a great deal of time and effort into the research for this novel, and it paid off. Not only did she produce an eminently readable book, she gave us an accurate insight into the lives of a type of chimpanzee known as the bonobo.
The bonobo and the common chimpanzee are close cousins and both are the closest extant relative to humans, sharing more than 98 per cent of our DNA.
The Great Ape Trust in Des Moines has a number of bonobos who have become proficient in American Sign Language. Gruen managed to talk her way into the Trust and, having studied ASL before she went, became friends with the bonobos there.
Rather than write a scientific treatise, which has already been done, she wrote a novel that, according to bonobo expert Vanessa Woods, is totally accurate.
While the story line is centered on the bonobos’ removal from the safe environment where they are being studied and being taken to a secret location where they become unwitting fodder for a reality TV show, the best part of the book is the interaction between the members of the bonobo “family” and the humans they know and trust. They are smart as whips and have a great sense of humour.
When the bonobos are forcibly taken from their research facility, the person most responsible for them, Isabel Duncan, is badly injured and spends the rest of the novel recovering from her injuries and moving heaven and earth to save her “family.”
She gets some help from Celia, a young intern at the lab, and a great deal more from newspaperman John Thigpen. The story line is a bit convoluted. John comes and goes. His wife Amanda is part of the Thigpen sub-plot. Peter the boss man turns out to be fairly evil. But through it all the reader can rest easy, knowing the bonobos will be saved.
There are emotions in this book. People get upset and their hearts race and they throw stuff at the wall. But the bonobos are cool through it all.