From Publishers Weekly
The protagonist of this good-humored though long-winded novel is a chimpanzee. Jennie lives for almost a decade during the 1970s and enjoys the period's activities, e.g., peace marches and dropping LSD. Written in the form of diary entries and interviews, the narrative draws on research with actual primates (Preston is the author of Dinosaurs in the Attic and other nonfiction works on scientific subjects) and advances the theory that chimps are nearly human. Naturalist Dr. Hugo Archibald delivers baby Jennie from her dying mother in the Cameroons and brings her home to his American family. His young son Sandy bonds with Jennie, but daughter Sarah, only eight months old when Jennie arrives, grows to fiercely resent the chimp. A minister who sees Jennie as a "child of God" teaches her about Jesus. After being trained in ASL (American Sign Language), the apt chimp learns to converse, wheedle, taunt, lie and swear. Her antics resemble those of a gleeful, willful human brat, given to tantrums that include tearing up furniture. She hoards and steals. She shops at Bloomingdale's. She meets celebrities. She gets arrested. Sexual maturity is Jennie's downfall. Sent to a wildlife camp, she identifies her fellow chimp as a "black bug," feels betrayed and violently grieves for her lost freedom. The tale gives Preston a chance to discourse on evolution and socialization, aggression, love, suffering and death, successfully integrating these topics into his whimsical narrative. While some readers may delight in Jennie's exploits, others may find the narrative cartoonish and one-dimensional, a joke that keeps repeating itself in different keys.