We Love You, Charlie Freeman, by Kaitlyn Greenidge
I was drawn to this book after reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves the year before, another novel about a family raising a chimpanzee like a child.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman was far more ambitious, because not only did it tackle the issue of animal rights, science, and ethics, but it also addressed racism, bullying, family dysfunction, and childhood obesity, and interlaced historical fiction with the more recent past.
The (African-American) Freeman family moves to the shrouded-in-mystery Toneybee Institute to be part of an experiment: they would adopt a chimpanzee into their own family. Charlie Freeman, like most chimps, is hard to love and decidedly not human. Each family member reacts to the odd situation differently. The mother, Laurel, throws herself into the experiment completely, neglecting her own family while developing an unhealthy attachment to Charlie. The husband withdraws. One daughter retreats into her own intense friendship with another girl, while the youngest feels alone and abandoned and resorts to food as comfort.
Intertwined with the Freeman family story is that of Nymphadora Jericho, a young woman in the 1920s who is part of the Toneybee Institute's past.
This disturbing, thought-provoking novel is still sticking with me. It doesn't shy away from asking the hard questions.