WILD LIFE by Keena Roberts


Dispatches From a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs
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Coming-of-age between a baboon research camp in Africa and a private school in Pennsylvania.

The daughter of American professors and primatologists, Roberts spent her early years in Kenya in the Amboseli National Park, “close enough to the border with Tanzania to see Mount Kilimanjaro.” A brief spell in Philadelphia left her feeling that her new home was “too big inside and not enough outside.” When her parents moved the family back to a remote camp on a game reserve in Botswana, it signaled new adventure. The author’s meticulous child’s view stitches back-and-forth vignettes of a carefree girlhood among wildlife and a rougher existence at school in Pennsylvania. Refreshingly, Roberts avoids many common stereotypes of Africa; she clearly captures its many wonders as well as its perils, such as a mamba that she shot with an air rifle. Lush descriptions linger over flora and fauna, providing an immersive narrative that will have readers admiring the author’s mostly charming adventures, from piloting a boat at age 10 to joining her parents on their baboon watch. Roberts also shows us the everyday rigors of living in tents and enduring the oppressive heat, which often left them simply seeking shade from 9 to 5, when “it was too hot to function.” Recounting her time in the U.S., the author emphasizes her feelings of displacement and difficulties navigating many rite-of-passage moments. The chapters about high school turn more serious, and the pace slows as Roberts turns her attention to familiar adolescent pains. She weaves broader topics, such as the HIV crisis in Botswana, into a later chapter, and while she longs for the days at baboon camp, “American Keena has given me some important experiences as well.” The journey’s end is elegiac yet hopeful: “The wardrobe door may have closed on Narnia, but that doesn’t mean the story is over.”

This episodic, warm exploration of identity and culture is both wide-eyed and surprisingly wise.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5387-4515-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019


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