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.
So, I get the experiment, I get the Freeman family, I get Charlotte's struggle with sexuality, I get what happens to the father and to Callie, I get the race relations, I get the point of Adia, I understand Nymphadora's story line, I understand Charlie's behavior as an ape and as a caged animal and as an experiment and as someone who grew up with people, I understand ALL of this, but for the life of me Laurel Freeman is completely beyond my comprehension.
Other things I'm stumped about:
1) Why does this family know sign language? Was it explained somewhere in the middle of the book and I have forgotten it? No one is deaf, nor do they know anyone who is deaf, nor do the parents use sign language in their jobs, nor are they into any other kind of linguistics. The mom just taught everyone for kicks? That would be cool if there had been a point, like, say she knew she was going to the Institute or she wanted them to work with the deaf community. But....??
2) Laurel and Charlie's bond - I would love to know the psychology behind it. I can guess at it to a certain degree, but seriously, I expected more of a dramatic resolution or explanation with this story line.
The ending was this odd mixture of satisfying and unsatisfying. I am not sure I can put into words what I mean exactly. It's quite hard to review this book without spoilers. There is so much I want to comment on that would take away from the reading experience.
Overall, I think it was a mostly successful attempt at blending a lot of impactful experiences and sociology and social psychology into a story about a family, an ape, and an experiment.
"We had rules of what you weren't supposed to do in public, what you weren't supposed to do around white people. Laugh too loudly, show anger, dress raggedy, show any sign of disorder or chaos. Fit perfectly - without strain - into space."