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Anything’s worth a try.

Never done it before? Then give it a whirl, you have nothing to lose. You might actually like it. You might grow to love it. And then again—as in the new book “We Love You, Charlie Freeman” by Kaitlyn Greenidge, the experiment might go horribly awry.
The shiny new car just didn’t seem right.

Nothing did, really. Leaving their home, moving to another state, having to make new friends, Charlotte Freeman hated it all. And this experiment her parents had gotten them into, well, no.

Her mother, Laurel, sure was excited about it, though. Ever since she was young, Laurel had been fascinated with sign language, and she taught both her daughters to sign as soon as they were old enough to understand the motions. But a chimpanzee?  A chimp the Freemans would raise as a child, while they taught it sign language?
Charlotte couldn’t ever imagine spending the rest of her teenage years pretending that a chimpanzee was her brother. She was leery of the “doctor” who ran the program, and of the ancient woman who’d founded the whole thing. They were White; the Freemans were Black and Charlotte suspected that race had something to do with why The Toneybee Institute had hired her mother, but it didn’t matter.

What mattered was that Charlotte and her little sister seemed to be losing their mother’s love to a chimpanzee.

Nobody’d called Ellen Jericho by her real name in years. They all called her by her Star of the Morning name, Nymphadora, which was a name that made her proud, and which was the name she’d given Dr. Gardner when they first met.

They made their acquaintance because he’d been bothering the town’s children with his obsessive sketching. Her Star sisters asked her to ask him to stop, which Nymphadora did—brokering a deal with him to sketch her instead, in poses that he chose.

She didn’t expect to fall in love with him, nor was she prepared to stumble upon the horrible reason why Gardner wanted her to pose unclothed. And more than 70 years later, Charlotte was equally surprised at what she discovered…

Author Greenidge doesn’t just touch upon the issue of race, she tackles it and knocks it to the ground. This, while we squirm over what we see happening to the people in the story, and what we think is coming.

Yep, Greenidge is good at making readers uneasy.

That dis-ease, however, fully extends to the character, Nymphadora, who’s introduced with her Star of the Morning lineage in a way that made me wonder if this was a time-travel novel. It’s not—but it took me a good long while to understand so.

(“We Love You, Charlie Freeman” by Kaitlyn Greenidge, c.2016, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill,  $25.95/higher in Canada, 336 pages.)

Kaitlyn Greenidge was born in Boston. She received her MFA from Hunter College. Her work has appeared in The Believer, American Short Fiction, Guernica, Kweli Journal, The Feminist Wire, Afro Pop Magazine, Green Mountains Review and other places. She is the recipient of fellowships from Lower Manhattan Community Council’s Work-Space Program; Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and other prizes. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

 

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