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Lucy    by Laurence Gonzales order for
by Laurence Gonzales
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Knopf, 2010 (2010)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

When I first heard about the premise on which Laurence Gonzales' Lucy is based (the adoption of a girl who is a human/bonobo hybrid), I found it hard to believe anyone could make a credible story out of it and was reluctant to read it. I was wrong, and if you let the same reluctance prevent you from turning Lucy's pages, you'll miss an outstanding and thought-provoking novel.

Jenny Lowe is a primatologist working in the jungles of the Congo. Warned of the danger of civil war, she now hears rocket-propelled grenades. She heads for the river, but stops on the way to check on another researcher, British Donald Stone. Though he's rejected all her overtures to collaborate, she's heard that he has a daughter and is concerned for their safety. Jenny finds Stone dead in his cabin, with his fourteen-year-old daughter, Lucy, wailing over a dead bonobo. Jenny takes Lucy with her, along with Stone's journals.

The one time they met, Donald Stone had talked of the 'positive flow of information' coming out of the jungle', The Stream. Lucy, who has 'haunting dark green eyes', seems particularly attuned to The Stream. She also speaks half a dozen languages and has been well educated by her father. With help from an Embassy official on documentation, Jenny takes Lucy home to Chicago with her and, in the absence of relatives, eventually adopts her. But not before reading Stone's journals ...

Jenny is shocked to discover that Donald Stone, in a misguided attempt at 'salvation for the bonobos - and perhaps of mankind', created a 'human-bonobo hybrid', his daughter Lucy. Only as he got to know and love her did he suffer a crisis of conscience and worry about her future. But he hoped that 'Anyone who meets this fascinating, intelligent, and beautiful girl will have to marvel at her, no matter the means of her creation.' Terrified of the potential consequences for Lucy, Jenny decides to keep her origins a secret.

Gonzales does a fine job of portraying Lucy's subtle differences from her peers (from her Tarzan-style jungle upbringing as much as her bonobo heritage) and the problems resulting from them. Lucy goes to school, where she makes a close friend of Amanda (their banter makes Lucy real and lovable) and takes up wrestling. But gradually, Lucy and Jenny are forced to let others in on their secret - Jenny's close physician friend Harry and Amanda. And, when it's clear that the world is about to discover it, Amanda decides they need to 'Take control of the information.'

She and Lucy use teen Internet channels (YouTube, Facebook etc.) and it's BIG news. But the reactions are mixed. Along with enthusiasm over Lucy's existence comes a bill to make her officially a nonhuman animal without rights, a vicious backlash from fundamentalists who call for euthanasia, and a government organization who want to use her for research on military applications of human-hybrids. Though Jenny tries to arrange a refuge for Lucy, she disappears on her way to it, leaving her friends wondering what has happened.

There's both tragedy and joy in the very appropriate ending to this excellent story, which reminded me in many ways of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. And though it seems unlikely that this first hybrid would be such a superwoman (in terms of intelligence especially as the enhanced physical attributes might reasonably come from her bonobo ancestry) Lucy is a delightful individual, whose genes would be an asset to humanity.

Despite all she endures, Lucy learns to forgive her father, understanding 'That we all bequeath some terrible gift to future generations, just as some mad protohuman long ago gave us the gift of fire, the gift of stone, the gift of iron.' Lucy will stay with me more than any other novel I've read this year - don't miss it.

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