Book Review: Lucy by Laurence Gonzales

LucyLucy by Laurence Gonzales

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost stopped reading this, and I’m glad I trucked through it and finished it just minutes before NaNoWriMo 2010 began. I found the first half kind of slow and, while I like the idea behind the book, the story didn’t really engage me at first. It seemed kind of light and like not much was happening. I found it a little tough to imagine that a 14-year-old (albeit a 14-year-old human/bonobo hybrid) would fit in with high school seniors as well as Lucy seemed to. I did like the details about The Stream and about how the other characters sensed something different about Lucy and all tried to reason it out in different ways.

I found the short sections written in Lucy’s voice to be quite compelling and eloquent. I wonder if the book may have held more interest for me from the beginning were it written in Lucy’s voice, either completely or in larger part.

Then about halfway through, the book took off, and I tore through it. The relationships deepened, the characters developed and became more 3-dimensional, and I began to actually care about them. Maybe it just took the central conflict to transform this bunch into people I’d want to know.

A couple of things I was curious about that Gonzales didn’t address. One was the difference in development between a newborn bonobo and a newborn human. As I understand it, because humans have larger brains and smaller pelvises (because we walk upright), we are born about 3 months earlier, developmentally speaking, than bonobos and chimps are. So when a bonobo is born, they’re at a developmental stage roughly equivalent to a 3-month-old human. With a bonobo mom, would Lucy have been born like a bonobo newborn, and if so, would her head have fit OK through Leda’s pelvis? Or would Lucy have been born at the same stage as a human newborn, in which case, what adjustments would Leda have had to make to allow for a baby who couldn’t immediately cling to her fur with the strength a bonobo newborn could?

At times I found Gonzales’ allusions to be a little heavy-handed. In the portion of Lucy’s memoir that we get to read, there’s an allusion to the Garden of Eden, how Lucy was a bonobo until she learned to write, and then began to differentiate towards the human side of her genetic heritage, leaving behind the innocence of her bonobo relatives. I would have preferred if Gonzales had just let the reader feel clever for having picked that allusion up rather than making direct reference to Eden.

The portrayals of the two main reactions to Lucy’s existence were a little black-and-white, too. Those opposed to her were religious fanatics who wanted her caged and/or killed and those who supported her were all good, intelligent people who accepted her human side and didn’t seem to have any serious problems with her ape side. Seems like in reality, those reactions would be a little more nuanced.

All-in-all I found this to be an enjoyable read. Touches on a fairly surface level some very deep issues (and brought up an application of the USA Patriot Act I hadn’t considered), and explores what it means to be human.

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