Posts Tagged We Love You Charlie Freeman

STEELE PICKS: Best Books of 2016

quite delayed on posting my year-end list.

here are the best books of 2016 [not ranked]:


An Abbreviated Life: a memoir by Ariel Leve [Harper]
–gorgeous writing, sad story. resilience. My parents got divorced when I was around the same age and I only have a few isolated or vague memories.


Alligator Candy: a memoir by David Kushner [Simon & Schuster]
David Kushner’s older brother Jon disappeared one day on a bike ride to get candy and two men savagely murdered him, sodomized him postmortem and mutilated his body. It’s a horrific event to happen in one’s family. Only four at the time, Kushner didn’t quite understand the full impact. He missed his brother but didn’t know the complete details. Now a journalist, he decided to revisit the case and provide a voice for and memory of his brother. Through compelling prose and devastating emotion this memoir potently addresses murder and its effect on the family. full review


Future Sex by Emily Witt [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
Future Sex reads as a fascinating sociological study on sexuality that delves into orgasmic mediation, internet porn, webcams, Burning Man and polyamory. Witt combines personal experience with research and reporting in a darkly amusing, honest and real manner. Witt investigates sites I’d barely heard of: Chaturbate; Porn Hub;; Fetlife. She attends an orgasmic mediation workshop [looked up on YouTube and there are tutorials] and travels to Burning Man. She interviews tons of people such as polyamorous Google employees, the founder of OKCupid, a 19-year-old webcammer as well as a woman who creates female-centered porn. Witt doesn’t make a spectacle of what may be absurd. Instead she writes analytically, astutely with brevity and a sharp edge. full review.


Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson [Harper]
A former ballet dancer, Wilson provides intimate details about New York’s ballet scene. While this isn’t solely a novel about the ballet world, girls straddling the line between youth and adulthood provides fascinating reading. The novel flawlessly describes the razor sharp focus on becoming the best, earning a particular status and securing one’s place in this strange world overflowing with beauty and sacrifice. And what happens to all those girls who aren’t’ quite the best? Those girls who do not make the right school or earn a place in a prestigious ballet company? This absorbing, riveting novel does what a wonderful novel can do: it completely transports readers to a specific time and place in such an effective and specific manner that one thinks about the subject and characters well past finishing the last page. full review.


Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh [Ecco]
Returning to Bakerton, Pennsylvania—the setting for the 2005 best-selling novel Baker Towers—author Jennifer Haigh again focuses on an energy source and its effects on a small community. full review.

here i am

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
–phenomenal writing. for some reason I waited to read this (maybe because it’s quite long and dense). immediately engulfed in the story of a family coming apart. numerous other elements including being Jewish and Middle East politics. amazing.


Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Set in post-Civil War Philadelphia, this historical fiction novel beautifully explores race, class, gender and family. full review.

llucy pear

Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon [Viking]
An engrossing and gorgeous work of historical fiction, this novel effectively weaves together issues of class, feminism, wealth, power, mental illness and motherhood. The setting: Cape Ann, Massachusetts, a working class fishing community as well as a lovely coastal summer getaway for Boston’s wealthy. In 1917, the unwed teenage daughter of a wealthy family abandons her newborn daughter under a pear tree outside her uncle’s estate on Cape Ann. A decade later, Beatrice finds herself unexpectedly reunited with the Irish woman raising the determined and spunky Lucy Pear. full review.

modern girls

Modern Girls by Jennifer Brown [NAL]
–The novel focuses on a strong mother-daughter relationship. Brown incorporates historical details which strengthen the plot, setting and characters. For instance in a meeting Rose attends, she urges her comrades to write letters to their Senators to repeal 1924’s Johnson-Reed Act which instituted quotas on the number of Jews that could enter America. While Rose and Dottie don’t share every detail with each other they’ve developed a solid bond and care deeply about each others well-being. Mother and daughter respect and support each other. Despite the decade, the restrictions against women and standard domestic expectations, these women remain strong feminist characters. A sequel set 10 or 15 years on would be greatly welcomed. These characters must be followed up on. Clear your schedule and brew a pot of tea. Once you start this wonderful, detailed novel you’ll want to read straight through. full review.

the other woman

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman [Other Press]
This novel bursts with intellectual prowess. It’s witty, provocative and thoughtful about money, class, what it is to have less and desire more, to be educated and smart but not particularly suited to anything. Swedish author Therese Bohman examines societal expectations of what makes a complete life: a good job; a happy coupling; a nice place. All the things by which we define ourselves but realize the innate superficiality of it all. If we focus on the having and not the feeling and the experiencing then we lack integrity, depth and strength of character. full review.


Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
Pull Me Under is an exquisitely dark psychological thriller which examines identity and place through its compelling protagonist and story. read my complete review.

rare objects

Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro [Harper]
–lovely historical fiction set in Boston. Author Kathleen Tessaro adeptly describes both the immigrant North End and wealthy mansions with vivid detail. Superb writing and research merge to tell this wonderful story. a page-turner about class, friendship and the things and people we value most. full review.

sun in your eyes

The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro [William Morrow]
–There’s that saying that you can’t tell a book by its cover. Book covers visually connect a potential reader to the book. The cover image makes you wonder what the book will be about. A beautiful, cool book cover sets expectations. On the cover of The Sun in Your Eyes is a photo of two women with a definite 70s rocker chic. What’s going on between these two women? It’s a 1974 photograph by William Eggleston and drew me right in. I’d also just seen the photo in the documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me which features this photo. The blonde was Alex Chilton’s girlfriend. full review.


The Vegetarian by Kang Han [Hogarth]
–I’ve been a vegan for about eight years and am not too thin. Due to psychiatric meds I need to lose weight. I stopped eating red meat at 12!/everything but fish at 18 then went vegetarian to vegan. So the being deprived and malnourished because she’s not eating meat is bothering me a tad. Otherwise, the writing is great. It’s dark and suspenseful. Entirely original and engrossing.


We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge [Algonquin]
–a thoughtful and provocative novel which effectively and creatively winds together numerous subjects from coming-of-age, first love, adolescence, sisterhood, race, anthropology, history and family dynamics. In 1990, a family relocates from Dorchester, Massachusetts to the Berkshires to teach sign language to a chimpanzee at the Toneybee Institute for Great Ape Research. full review.

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book review: We Love You, Charlie Freeman


We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge. Algonquin| March 8, 2016| 326 pages | $25.95| ISBN: 978-1-61620-467-9

RATING: *****/5*

We Love You, Charlie Freeman stands out as a thoughtful and provocative novel which effectively and creatively winds together numerous subjects from coming-of-age, first love, adolescence, sisterhood, race, anthropology, history and family dynamics. In 1990, a family relocates from Dorchester, Massachusetts to the Berkshires to teach sign language to a chimpanzee at the Toneybee Institute for Great Ape Research.

Mainly Laurel, the mother, will work with Charlie, the chimpanzee. Both daughters– teenager Charlotte and 11-year-old Callie– know sign language and the entire family with live with Charlie as if he’s another member of the family, sort of a brother. That’s the intent. Charlotte and Callie went to a “black, deaf overnight camp in the backwoods of Maryland.” Charlotte surmises it was for the two to make friends. She notes: “In Dorchester, our constant signing, our bookish ways and bans from fast-food restaurants and booty music, assured that me and Callie were unpopular on the block.” Debut novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge grew up in Boston and accurately describes Dorchester, the Berkshires and race in Massachusetts. The family soon learns about the institute’s notorious reputation, insidious rumors and unusual history.

Greenidge rotates points-of-view between the family members as well as a black woman name Nymphadora with an unusual association with the institution in 1929. Nymphadora describes herself: “I am a thirty-six-year-old unmarried, orphaned Negro schoolteacher, in charge of a room full of impressionable young colored minds and every night, I sing a dirty nursery rhyme to help me go to sleep. It is enough to laugh, if I did not always feel like weeping.”

Nymphadora lives in the mostly black Spring City. Back then researcher Dr. Gardner hires Nymphadora as a model to sketch. He sketches her nude and asks her to pose in unusual style. One day Nymphadora comes across the sketches Dr. Gardner made but instead of her face they contain the face of one of the chimpanzees. Appalled and upset, Nymphadora takes one of the sketches with her and writes to Dr. Gardner. Attempts and fails to collect an explanation or apology. The layers to Dr. Gardner’s shocking studies highlight misconceptions and stereotypes about race. Greenridge writes beautifully about the relationship that develops between Nympahdora and Dr. Gardner. She’s naïve. She trusts him enough to expose herself fully to him. He takes advantage and embarrasses her as well as many others.

In her new high school, although she’s one of few black students, Charlotte enjoys being rather anonymous. She notes: “Here, in Courtland County, I had the benefit of being unknown. Back home in Dorchester, I had been with the same kids since kindergarten and they all remembered me as the know-it-all who got uppity and insulted everyone in a secret language she spoke with her hands.” Charlotte’s dealing with a crush at school on another black student named Adia Breitling who teaches her many things about black culture, its history, the music and provides her information about what’s rumored about the institute. Charlotte notes that according to the Breitlings: “Black people could love Joni Mitchell but still claim to hate white singers. According to them, these were the things black people did not do: eat mayonnaise; drink milk; listen to Elvis Presley; watch Westerns or Dynasty; read Time magazine; appreciate Jack London; know the lyrics to Kenny Rogers’s songs; suffer fools; enjoy the cold or any kind of winter.”

One day Charlotte even finds her mom breastfeeding Charlie which leads her to question the entire situation. It’s clearly upsetting and weird for her. She also comes across information about the experiments conducted on black people by the institute in the 1930s. She speaks out at a dinner with Ms. Julia Toneybee-Leroy one evening and throws everyone into a frenzy. I preferred and appreciated Charlotte’s point-of-view most of all and it might have been as effective if she told the Freeman’s story.

Immediately bonding with Charlie, Laurel carries him around like a baby. He’s instantly attached and rather protective of their relationship. He wants no one to come between him and Laurel. This position at the institute training Charlie could change everything for Laurel. She’s always insisted on using black sign language versus white. “She should have started signing white again, at least get a shot at the better jobs, but Laurel was stubborn. She truly believed that she could win people over to her side of things. They only had to see black sign language, she was certain, to understand that is was special.” And Laurel does in the end choose Charlie over everything and everyone.

Callie grows jealous that her sister has a new friend and that her mom spends most of her time with Charlie. She starts over-eating and gains lots of weight. Charles, the father—who teaches at the school Charlotte attends–begins to grow apart from Laurel, abhors the entire experiment and decides to move out. This once close-knit family feels increasingly strained and pushed by Charlie the chimpanzee and Laurel’s fervent devotion to him. Eventually everything implodes.

–review by Amy Steele

Kaitlyn Greenidge will be reading at Porter Square Books on Thursday, March 17, 2016.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin Books.

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purchase at Amazon: We Love You, Charlie Freeman: A Novel

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