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 ThreatenedThreatened by Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic, February 2014
Reviewed from an ARC

The art of reading for Printz is an interesting one; the pile adds and drops titles throughout the course of the year. With two stars and some buzz, Threatened was a back-and-forther for me — sometimes in the pile, sometimes to the side, sometimes near the top, sometimes moved to the bottom. But when it got shortlisted for the NBA, it came back to the top of the pile with a vengeance. We wondered if anyone would speak up for it…no one had much to say then. Maybe you’ve been saving your comments for a longer post?

 There’s a lot of really great stuff going on here: vivid descriptions, lush details, strong characterization, gripping plot. Even the back matter is fascinating, including an author’s note, further reading recommendations, and recommendations on how to take action.

The themes in Threatened are thoughtfully presented and carefully woven through the text — questions about morality, about connection, about how to move on from tragedy. The connection Luc and Prof eventually develop adds a wealth of tender feelings to what could have been a simplistic survival story. They are both ambitious and alone, until they find each other. Their relationship is both emotionally satisfying and thematically elegant; they are both escaping a painful past and looking outside themselves, outside of humanity for connection and meaning.

Related: Schrefer’s exploration of the process of forging connections and finding meaning is really powerful and so satisfying. The family that Luc finds Inside is just as complicated and fascinating as any human family. His decision to stay at the end of the story (even with the mitigating promise from Anne Osgood to return) is a moment of real strength: it’s the moment when Luc truly has agency and is making a decision for himself.

The exciting plot is complemented by the strong characterization. Part of the reason it’s so gripping is because you care — you can’t help but care — about these characters (both the human and the chimpanzee characters, I mean). Writing about animals in an accessible, engaging way is a tough balance to strike, and Schrefer doesn’t make a wrong move. The chimp society that Luc must understand and navigate feels appropriately animal and yet recognizably nurturing.

At a sentence level, the writing is generally strong — selective and immediate. The urban setting and the jungle setting are richly described. From the Cafe de la Gare to Luc’s exposed campsite, the reader finds themselves shivering and triumphing alongside Luc. It’s an easy book to connect to — no matter that a major portion of the characters aren’t even human.

I didn’t have a ton of flaws noted after my read. There were moments — just a few — where Luc’s voice as an abandoned orphan was maybe a little too polished. The end, where Madame Osgood finds Luc, wraps things up a little quickly (not too neatly; it just feels a bit rushed). But these are minor flaws, and I can’t think of many others. So here’s your chance to sound off. Do you think Threatened will go far at the table?

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