An anthropologist and his family take a chimpanzee into their home and make more of a fuss over the animal than readers are likely to in a first novel by science writer Preston (Cities of Gold, 1992). A curator at the Boston Museum of Natural History, Dr. Hugo Archibald goes to Africa to buy chimpanzee skulls and falls in love with a baby chimp, whom he brings home to his wife, Lea, and their young children, Sandy and Sarah. The Archibalds raise Jennie as a human child, dressing her in diapers and kids' clothes and buying her dolls and toys, and Jennie and Sandy become inseparable best friends. A neighbor who is a Christian minister takes it upon himself to bring Jennie to Jesus, and a primate researcher teaches her sign language. But then Jennie hits puberty, her hormones kick in, and, predictably, she becomes uncontrollable; the fate of this chimp who thinks she's human is not a pretty one. Much more insightful when it comes to animals than humans, Preston hasn't worked out the Archibalds' motivations, and this omission is a serious flaw of the novel. Preston seems to want readers to think that the Archibalds are merely eccentric when all his evidence points to the fact that these people are disturbed and that Jennie is filling some bizarre need in the family. Preston throws us a few tidbits -- an adult Sarah confesses that she had hated Jennie because she believed that her father loved the chimpanzee better; Hugo, discussing with a colleague Jennie's care after he and his wife are dead, says that the Jennie problem is no different than having a mentally retarded child -- but they only confuse us all the more. It doesn't help matters that the novel, written as an oral history, masquerades as nonfiction. As a novel, this is sometimes sweet but mostly strange. Better to take the kids to the soon-to-be-made Disney movie; Jennie's sophomoric monkeyshines -- peddling away on her tricycle, scarfing bananas, and giving all and sundry ""the finger"" -- may play better on the silver screen than they do on the written page.