Review: Ape House by Sara Gruen

Monday, July 18, 2016

Publisher: Bond Street Books
Publication Date: September 7th, 2010
Rating: 3. 5 Stars
Source: Library Audiobook
Pages: 306

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships - but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.

Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn’t understand people, but animals she gets - especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she’s ever felt among humans... until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what’s really going on inside.

When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and “liberating” the apes, John’s human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he’ll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest - and unlikeliest - phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John; a green-haired vegan; and a retired porn star with her own agenda.

Ape House delivers great entertainment, but it also opens the animal world to us in ways few novels have done, securing Sara Gruen’s place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before.

John Thigpen is a reporter with the Philadelphia Enquirer. In the beginning of the book, we meet him as he is visiting the Great Ape Language Lab for a piece he's writing for his newspaper. He meets Isabel Duncan, one of the main scientists working with the apes, and he meets the apes themselves, Sam, Bonzi, Mbongo, Jelani, Lola, and Makena.

Shortly after his visit to the Language Lab, it's attacked by an extreme animal rights group. The explosion severely injures Isabel and the apes end up getting sold because the university doesn't want to deal with what the consequences might be from the animal rights group if they try to reopen the lab. From there it's a search to find the apes until they turn up on the tv in a reality show called Ape House.

I generally enjoyed this book. I think most of the reason I liked it was because I listened to it rather than actively reading it. Something about me is that I really, really, REALLY dislike apes/monkeys. Why? I don't know. I just always have. Despite that, the apes were definitely my favorite part of the book. I wish they would have been more of a central part of the book rather than just all the drama that surrounds the show and the human characters.

First, I'm going to talk about John Thigpen. Honestly, why did he even need to be a main character in this book? I don't think he added anything worthwhile at all. He was only really needed for Isabel to give the scoop to for his big break in the Ape House story. Besides that all we got from him was drama with his stupid wife. She drove me bananas. I couldn't stand her. She was such a drama queen and she literally added nothing to the story. I didn't even pay attention to half of John's narration of the book because I just did not care.

I wish this book would have been entirely from Isabel's point of view. Not that her point of view was all that much more rewarding than John's during a lot of this book, but with Isabel you got a lot more information on the apes. She was the character with the most at stake during this book. Having been the one that got so injured in the explosion and the one who worked the most with the apes, therefore having the best relationship with them. Her point of view was entirely more interesting because there were actually things going on. Her spending time with the apes. Her spending her time in the hospital. Her searching for the apes. Her doing something about the fate of the apes after she figures out where they are. So much more interesting.

The apes themselves were definitely the most interesting characters. Bonzi is the matriarch of the group of Bonobos. She's really smart and really caring toward the rest of the group, looking out for them and making sure they have what they need.

Mbongo was kind of hilarious because he was always so sulky when he didn't get his way. In the beginning of the book, he was trying to play a game with John, but John didn't understand and Mbongo was so devastated. He might be my favorite of the apes because he made me chuckle so much.

Sam and Makena had a cute little relationship, they always seemed to be watching each other or interacting and it was fun to read about. I think Sam was kind of the tough guy of the group.

Lola is Bonzi's baby. She didn't really have a huge part and neither did Jelani, but they were still better than John and his wife.

I think my favorite human character was Celia. She is the 19-year-old intern who was working at the Language Lab with Isabel. She had a group of hacker friends who helped to track down what was going on with the apes and she kind of had an attitude that I liked. She was really good help to Isabel after her accident and I liked the relationship they had.

Overall, I think that this book would have benefitted from completely cutting out basically any input from a character that wasn't Isabel. The apes were a big part of the book, but all the drama that surrounds them with being sold and doing Ape House and what not felt like it kind of overshadowed all the completely interesting things about them and being able to actually communicate with humans. But I definitely enjoyed this book more than I originally thought I would when I checked it out. I really liked her book Water for Elephants, so I thought I'd try this one out. I've already begun looking up tours of the Language Lab that Sara Gruen did her research at because I. Want. To. Go. And it's only in Iowa, so not too far from me! :)

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