The story opens up with Ortega getting ready for his first day of school ever. The reader is immediately thrust into the worries and thoughts of a normal 11 year old boy facing new students, new school, and a new situation. Yet this was not an ordinary 11 year old nervous about his first day of school for Ortega is not considered normal. Ortega is a young low land gorilla.
Ortega is part of a scientific study, having been given the ability to speak and with the intellectual capability to understand. He has experienced life as would be experienced by a child, complete with a grandmother and mother figure. Yet his formative years were also spent as a scientific object of tests, observations, and being ‘put on show.’ Ortega is completely believable as an 11 year old boy and yet the author masterfully blends in the behavior tendencies of the species with the normal behaviors of an eleven year old boy. Through obstinate behavior, practical jokes, and normal 11 year old antics, Ortega puts himself and the project in jeopardy. Things come to a head when there is talk of getting rid of him, by selling him. Yet his new found friends at school have a plan that ultimately saves the day.
The reader is left with some insights into another life form, a life form that, while is not a reality just yet, is a possibility at some time in the future. Plus there is the unique look at the thoughts, feelings, and interactions of 11 year olds that we, as adults, don’t normally see, with just enough exterior problems for the other characters that not only support the main story but bring life to the characters. More importantly, the young reader is left with thoughts and questions about rights and responsibilities that we as a species have.
This is a well written, thoroughly enjoyable book that brings with it a chance for deeper introspection from the reader, hence the grade 8 designation. The book is very supportive to the young reader in language and structure while maintaining the questions of the ‘right to life’ theme that permeates quietly through the story without being overbearing or preachy. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was fascinated with the skill of the author to blend normal human behavior with the natural behavior of a gorilla. 224 pages
Christine Rayl, Librarian
Bowie Elementary School