Charlotte’s family is starting over, and she isn’t sure what to make of it. Charlotte and her sister, Callie, have long been considered the weird ones in their Boston neighborhood. They speak in sign language as often as anything, a skill acquired from their mother, Laurel. But now that skill is setting them apart in another way: The Toneybee Institute for Ape Research has hired Laurel to teach sign language to a chimpanzee, Charlie—and the rest of the family is expected to treat him as one of their own.
The family reacts in different ways, though. Laurel and Charlie easily bond. Callie aims to do the same, but the chimp doesn’t return her affections. He quickly becomes a point of division in Laurel and her husband Charles’ marriage. Charlotte, meanwhile, struggles to understand why her mother is so quick to embrace Charlie.
As Charlotte studies the institute’s past, her feelings grow increasingly conflicted. Seventy years prior to the Freeman family’s arrival, researchers at the Toneybee conducted studies comparing African-American people with apes. Charlotte is determined to reveal the link to her family and unveil the story they may now unwittingly be participating in.
In her debut novel, We Love You, Charlie Freeman, Kaitlyn Greenidge addresses race with a knowing, deft hand. And there’s far more at work here, as Charlotte and Callie face their teenage years and wrestle with the line between what their parents want and what they desire for themselves. The result is a story about identity, both self-determined and dictated by outsides sources, and a family’s aim to settle into who they are.