We Love You, Charlie Freeman is a story about a black family, the Freemans, who live with a chimp at the famed Toneybee Institute, in order to teach him sign language. Well, that's what the book is supposed to be about, but there's so very much more to this book than meets the eye. Delving into the Institute's past, the oldest daughter, Charlotte, discovers a history full of scientifically questionable "studies" involving apes and black people, with the blessing of the white heiress who owns the Institute. Moving back and forth from the studies to the present, Greenidge's story is riveting. Addressing white privilege, the exploitation of blacks, the burden of racism, black activism, the quest for love and family, and what happens when it all goes wrong, this novel is excellent. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
“Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel slips a very skillful knife under the skin of American life. This is a story about family, about language, about history and its profound echoes.” — Colum McCann
Frustrated by the limitations of cross-race communication in her predominantly white town, Laurel, a young African American girl, teaches herself to sign--a skill she later imparts to her two daughters. This ability eventually leads Laurel to uproot her husband and daughters from their overeducated and underpaid life in the South End of Boston for the bucolic Massachusetts countryside, where the Freemans are to take part in an experiment. They’ve been hired by a private research institute to teach sign language to a chimpanzee who will live as part of their family. Narrated primarily by Laurel’s teenage daughter, Charlotte, the story goes back in time to the founding of the institute, in the 1920s, revealing shocking past experiments. This "important debut from an important writer" (Bill Cheng, author of Southern Cross the Dog) is ultimately an exploration of language, race, and history.
"Greenidge proves herself a master of dialogue, which helps her craft engaging, well-drawn characters.… With humor, irony, and wit, Greenidge tackles this sensitive subject and crafts a light but deeply respectful take on this heavy aspect of America's treatment of black people. This is a timely work, full of disturbing but necessary observations. A vivid and poignant coming-of-age story that is also an important exploration of family, race, and history." Kirkus Reviews
"…ambitious…deftly constructed, encompassing weighty issues such as race, language, sexuality, and the intersections of religion and science, arriving finally at a heartbreaking confrontation. The end result is a sobering look at how we communicate with one another and what inevitably gets lost in translation." Publishers Weekly
"Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel reminds us that it is an exciting time to be reading fiction. We Love You, Charlie Freeman is a masterful meditation on race, anthropology, history, and the hurly-burly complications of family. Greenidge’s prose is incisive, clever, resounding with a deep intelligence... We Love You, Charlie Freeman stands to be an important debut from an important writer." Bill Cheng, author of Southern Cross the Dog
"Greenridge’s wondrous first novel pits the sins of the past against the desire for the future in a multifaceted narrative that challenges concepts of culture and communication." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Greenidge “succeeds in large part because her voices are so dead-on. Whether it is Charlotte, swooning and conflicted over Adria or her sister, or Nymphadora trying to be clear-eyed about Gardner, these narratives are convincing and utterly engaging." Boston Globe
"This fantastic debut novel tackles important subjects — race and culture, language and communication — frankly and with grace. Kaitlyn Greenidge's story follows an African-American family hired to teach sign language to a chimp, but a dark history follows the institute behind the experiment. Charlie Freeman has so many elements of a great read: thoughtful construction, precise prose, and a beating heart." Elle.com
About the Author
Kaitlyn Greenidge received her MFA from Hunter College, where she studied with Nathan Englander, Peter Carey, and was Colson Whitehead’s writing assistant as part of the Hertog Research Fellowship. Greenidge was the recipient of a Pushcart Prize (for an excerpt from We Love You, Charlie Freeman)and the Bernard Cohen Short Story Prize. She was a Bread Loaf scholar, a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace artist-in-residence, and a Johnson State College visiting emerging writer. Her work has appeared in the Believer, the Feminist Wire, At Length, Fortnight Journal, Green Mountains Review, Afrobeat Journal, the Tottenville Review, and American Short Fiction. Originally from Boston, she now lives in Brooklyn.