Book Review: We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

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4/5 Stars.

This is the kind of book that contains incredible depth and complexity wrapped in a refreshingly readable and accessible story.

The year is 1991 and 14-year-old Charlotte Freeman and her family have been given the opportunity to leave the city and take up residence at the Toneybee Institute, a renowned primate research facility in rural Massachusetts. There, they’ll participate in an ostensibly exciting experiment: they’ll welcome a young chimp into their home and teach him sign language.

But what the Freeman’s don’t know is that the Toneybee Institute has a deeply disturbing history of experiments on members of the local black community in the 1930s.

This is an uncomfortable book to read: it quickly gives rise to a pit in your stomach that doesn’t ever really go away. But it’s an important book for that very reason. In today’s world, there are so many people who attempt to dismiss racism as a thing of the past, failing to acknowledge that historically speaking, we’re actually not far removed from horrible atrocities — and not only that, but the realities of institutional and internalized racism persist.

In her poignant story, Greenidge forces readers to confront powerful truths about prejudice, from the terrible legacy of racism to the challenges faced by a middle-class black American family in the 1990s.

There are no easy answers or tidy resolutions to be found in this book. Instead, Greenidge poses tough questions about race, animal captivity and family dynamics that may not even be answerable in the first place. And yet it’s not all grim. Charlotte is vibrant voice of witty humor and teenage rebellion as she tries to make sense of it all and find her place in the world.

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