In her new novel, We Love You, Charlie Freeman, Kaitlyn Greenidge elicits deep empathy for each of her characters, from high school freshman Charlotte in 1990 to the alternately told story of Nymphadora in 1929, and all the characters in between. Each is well developed and tragically flawed. The ideas of Julia Toneybee-Leroy are flawed. The Toneybee Institute for the study of speech in chimpanzees is a cruel place whose history was made crueler by a its director in 1929, a racist who exploited the local African American community and especially Nymphadora. Nymphadora’s story is already tragic, as her parents died in a suicide pact instead of revealing the extreme action they took to fund their daughter’s education.
In 1990, Charlotte and her family take an apartment at the Institute as an experiment. Charlie, a chimpanzee will live as part of the family and be immersed in a sign language environment. But Charlie suffers from a primal wound, and Laurel, Charlotte’s mother becomes obsessed with making him secure, to the exclusion of her own family. Uprooted from her native Boston, Charlotte finds solace in an only friend who, along with her friend’s mother, indoctrinate Charlotte in radical race politics. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s sister, Callie eats as a way to ease her loneliness, as she struggles to win Charlie’s love. Things come to a bizarre climax when Charlotte’s aunt and uncle arrive for Thanksgiving dinner, also attended by Julia Toneybee-Leory herself, the current director of the Institute, and a grad student who is filming the debacle.
Charlotte is a fascinating and resilient character who ultimately rises above these circumstances, although they forever change her and her family. A breathless read!