Book Review: 'We Love You, Charlie Freeman' Is an Ambitious Debut
We Love You, Charlie Freeman, an ambitious debut novel by KaitlynGreenidge, examines the complexities of scientific research, the often misguided conclusions drawn about race and evolution, and how a family experiment can go wildly wrong.
Traversing the 1990s and the early 1900s, the novel is a straightforward story of a family in crisis, even as it delves into the legacy of the flawed research of the physicality of the African American body.
Greenidge’s black family, the Freemans, are invited to the Toneybee Institute in rural Massachusetts to participate in a research project. They are skilled in sign language and will be studied as they welcome an abandoned young chimpanzee into their family. The project and the isolation of their living situation is the undoing of the family. The daughters become secondary to the research their mother has emotionally embraced, and their father is disillusioned in the early days of living at the institute.
It seems like a straightforward narrative, but once we go back in time and learn the origins of the Institute and the heiress who funded it, Greenidge is at work on a broader underlying story; that of our inability to find a common language for a discussion of race in America.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman isn’t perfect--the transitions between the time periods and some of the motivations of characters are hard to grasp--but it is thought-provoking and shows how, in our effort to understand, our own prejudice can profoundly get in the way of the truth.