I am very good at picking a great book to read without knowing a thing about the plot or author. That’s what happened with We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I recognized the author from The Jane Austin Book Club, but I knew nothing about this particular book. I was very surprised by how hooked I became to the story line and characters. I liked the book so much that it took me a few weeks to finish the last chapter. I didn’t want the book to end.
The book follows the Cooke family in a sort of reverse order of events. Fowler jumps from present day back to the 80s and 90s quite often. However, the story line is very easy to follow. The Cooke family is a little different from the average mid-west homestead; they adopted a chimpanzee named Fern to grow up with their daughter Rosemary and son Lowell. Rosemary, the narrator, explains how her dad is a psychologist and was using Fern and herself as an experiment. This is not to say that Rosemary didn’t see Fern as her sister, because she very much did. Rosemary was heart broken when she went to her grandparents one day to come home to a new house without her sister Fern.
It’s very interesting to read about the different games Rosemary and Fern played growing up. They would do simple memory games and more complex games where Fern would sign the answers. I liked being able to learn about the similarities and differences between humans and chimps throughout the book. I felt that Rosemary and Lowell really saw Fern as a human sister, not just a pet or an experiment. I thought it was remarkable how Rosemary really did have some of Fern’s qualities, even in while she was in college.
This book could be a fast read if you wanted it to: the characters are very well-rounded, the plot moves at a nice pace, and there’s a lot to learn within each chapter. That being said, I liked taking this read at a slower pace. I very much felt like I was a part of the story about a girl who spontaneously lost her sister at a young age without any reason or warning. The only “bad” thing I have to say about this book is that I wanted to read more. I wanted to know what happened to all the characters after the book ended. This isn’t really a bad thing, though. It just shows how memorable and great We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is.
Sarah Emily Lelonek has a BA in English Literature from Kent State University. She is planning on attending Graduate School for English Rhetoric and Composition. She enjoys traveling and gaming while on breaks from working on her novel.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Putnam. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.