________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 18 . . . . April 27, 2007


Baboon: A Novel.

David Jones.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2007.
169 pp., pbk. & cl., $11.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-053-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-054-2 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Baboons-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4


His human mind was overwhelmed by what his baboon nose brought to it now. He was drowning in odors, and longed for a breath of fresh air. Except that this was fresh air. Under other circumstances the perfume of a hundred plant and animal species might have been inviting, but right now they only distracted him as he tried to concentrate on one, the baboon odor. Just as he thought he was able to grasp it, it wafted away, wrapped in a dozen other scents.

Out in the open he felt exposed, and not only to the heat. His main worry was the lions and hyenas, and the grass here was tall enough to conceal them. He stopped often and turned down-wind. This was the direction from which a predator was most likely to approach, and they had no way of knowing that Gerry could hardly tell one smell from another. But he had smelled the leopard the night before; some part of his baboon brain had recognized its odor long before he had seen or heard it.

It took him much longer than he had thought it would to reach the big outcrop of rock - a great, black loaf of lava surrounded by grass. Not that he could really be sure how much time had passed. Gerry wanted to laugh when he found himself glancing at his left wrist. He had always worn a watch, and he still checked it often. Nothing but hair there now.

What do you get when you cross a degree in zoology with creative writing talent? David Jones's Baboon, a young adult 'biological science fiction' novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy the science fiction genre, readers whose preference is animal stories and readers who like a fast-paced adventure.

     Fourteen-year-old Gerry lives part of the year in England and part in Africa where his parents' scientific research is the study of baboons in their native habitat. En route to Tanzania, the family's plane crashes, and, when Gerry regains consciousness, he realizes he has somehow been transformed into a creature with a human mind and a baboon body. He has become one of the very animals to which his parents have dedicated their career.

     Gerry undergoes interesting changes as he joins a baboon troop and must adapt to their lives. His senses of sight and smell radically improve. And baboon cuisine becomes like an episode of Fear Factor as Gerry learns to eat bugs and mice. Jones's background in zoology is evident in his clear and detailed descriptions of the troop. Individual baboons develop personalities according to their roles in the group as well as in their interactions with Gerry thanks to Jones's ability to portray them so accurately.  Interestingly, as Gerry becomes more and more comfortable with his baboon family, he begins to lose some human characteristics. Counting and time-keeping become difficult; reading and writing almost impossible. 

     The airplane crash is the catalyst for Gerry's bizarre experience, and just in the final chapters Jones comes up with an equally plausible way for Gerry to re-enter his human body and rejoin his family. And does everyone believe his fantastic story? Or was it a dream brought on by his comatose state? This is largely irrelevant since Gerry, and the readers, live each 'baboon moment' so realistically. Perhaps more interesting is the question of whether the lessons Gerry has learned regarding not just survival but being part of a group in the animal kingdom can be transferred to the human world.

     Students will learn an astonishing number of facts about baboons in this novel as Jones deals with everything from their food and habitat to the complex relationships and code of manners within the troop. But, like Gerry, readers feel we are living this from the inside out as opposed to reading a textbook on primates. As chapters average 12 pages in length, the novel is approachable, both in theme and format, even for reluctant readers. 

     So whether your preference is fiction with a focus on animals, or science fiction with a brain inhabiting an entirely different body, or adventure where every chapter leaves you anxious to read on, Baboon is sure to please.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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