“Concrete can rot. It turns green and black before crumbling away. Maybe only people from Congo know that.” So begins this tale of Sophie Biyoya-Ciardulli’s summer vacation. As many modern children do, she was spending her summer break with her non-custodial parent, her mother. Unlike most children; however, her parents lived on two very different countries. During the school year, Sophie lived with her father in Miami, Florida. During her vacations, Sophie was with her mother in “The Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Sophie was actually born in Congo to an Congolese mother and a white American father. When it was time for Sophie to start school, her father was ready to move back to America given the dismal educational system for girls in Congo. But her mother ran a wildlife sanctuary for the endangered bonobos. She was dedicated to the work of preserving these intelligent creatures of her ancestral home. This was the end of the marriage and the beginning of Sophie’s treks across the Atlantic during school breaks. Sophie becomes comfortable in both environments.
On this particular summer break, Sophie broke one of her mother’s non-negotiable rules by purchasing an abused infant bonobo from a street vendor on her way to her mother’s home. The book later reveals why this is a very bad idea. Her mother then makes Sophie responsible for this bonobo’s care.
A number of plot turns later, Sophie and her bonobo, Otto, find themselves trying to make it to safety during a sudden and vicious civil war. There are some details of the horrors of war to make their journey authentic enough. There is also enough left unsaid to make this appropriate for young readers (I’d recommend 6th-8th).
This book was well-researched. There are wonderful pictures of the fascinating bonobos. It’s a fast paced adventure that should appeal to boys and girls. I would accompany this with some other information about Congo, possibly research projects. This is an opportunity to introduce middle schoolers to the diversity of African countries.