We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

My mum gave this book a few weeks ago now, and it has taken me ages to read it unfortunately due to work, but I’ve finally had time to curl up for a few hours and enjoy it. I wasn’t sure about it at first, as the blurb doesn’t give a lot away (for obvious reasons later) and it just sounded like not a lot would happen. And in a way, this is true- not a lot does happen but it still managed to captivate my mind and heart by the end by it’s witty and yet nostalgic feel.

The story focuses on Rosie, and begins in the middle really- she’s at college and remembering her childhood before her brother and sister disappeared. As you read, you start to suspect hers was not a normal childhood, but it’s not until page 70 or so that you realise why. If you read any further, this review will give this plot twist away. I don’t think it will ruin your enjoyment of the book any, but I thought it’d be fair to give warning.

Rosie’s wild, adventurous sister Fern who disappeared when she was five was a chimp. Her parents were phycologists who basically experimented on the two of them to study their communication and development side by side. By the time Rosie is in college, her brother has run away from home in search of Fern and has become a fugitive wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism involving animal rights in his quest to fight for Fern. Her parents have lost all their spark and her mother has clearly had a breakdown over the guilt of giving her chimp child away- because how else could you think of Fern? Rosie is torn between her need to not be seen as the ‘monkey girl’ of her childhood but also a huge and painful longing to know what happened to Fern, which she slowly pieces together when reunited with her mysterious brother.

Although the plot swings back and forth in time, it is easy to follow, the twist about Fern is very well done and the book is punctured with witty lines from Rosie as she narrates her life. It really makes you question the idea of what makes us human, or a family and how we all cope with loss. Of course, the main theme is to do with animal rights- does (or can) Fern, who has been brought up human, ever deserve to be seen as an animal? How can humans treat some animals the way they do when they can be so human-like? Fowler has clearly done a lot of research into the subject and the real families in the past that had ‘chimp babies’ which makes the book that bit more believable. I really enjoyed it and while being a good book for a lazy weekend afternoon, it still makes you think about it for a while after- something which I always want from a book!

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