We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler
Rosemary doesn’t talk much. She creeps people out. Her mother is a shadow of who she used to be, she doesn’t deal directly with her father. Her brother is wanted by the FBI. Her sister is gone.
Starting her 5th year in college, she tells us her story, slightly out of order.
Eventually, we get to the crux-- her sister Fern, the missing one, was a chimpanzee. They were raised together as sisters, part of a grand experiment, and then when Rosemary was 5, Fern was sent away to a farm and they never saw her or really spoke of her again.
Rosemary had a hard time in school, being a monkey girl, because being raised with a chimp made her have many chimp-like behaviors. She’s falls into the uncanny valley. She’s human, but something about her is… off.
The plot question is, why did Fern have to leave? But the main question of the book is, what are the ramifications of Fern being part of the family in the first place, and how the family (and the public) reacts to her leaving. And how Fern reacts to being taken away.
One thing they struggle with is that no one understood or acknowledged the family’s grief. They didn’t lose a pet, they lost a child. Rosemary lost her twin. The ethics of the study, of what happened, and why are explored through Rosemary’s lens. She was 5 when Fern left, her picture is incomplete.
It’s fascinating and moving as Rosemary tries to parse what happened and why and how that affected everything after, if it affected anything after.
I loved this book. I think Fowler really captured Rosemary as a college student and the whys and hows of how she looked at her own story.
But really, just, so much love. (Also it’s not a huge downer. It could have easily been a major sobfest. But it wasn’t. So glad Fowler didn’t go there.)
There's a reason this is an Outstanding Book for the College Bound!
Book Provided by... my local library
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