ARC Review: Wild Life: Dispatches From a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs by Keena Roberts

Title: Wild Life: Dispatches From a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs
Author: Keena Roberts
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Hardcover, 352 Pages
Publication Date: November 12th, 2019

Summary: Keena Roberts split her adolescence between the wilds of an island camp in Botswana and the even more treacherous halls of an elite Philadelphia private school. In Africa, she slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire, and lived each day alongside the baboon colony her parents were studying. She could wield a spear as easily as a pencil, and it wasn't unusual to be chased by lions or elephants on any given day. But for the months of the year when her family lived in the United States, this brave kid from the bush was cowed by the far more treacherous landscape of the preppy, private school social hierarchy. Most girls Keena's age didn't spend their days changing truck tires, baking their own bread, or running from elephants as they tried to do their schoolwork. They also didn't carve bird whistles from palm nuts or nearly knock themselves unconscious trying to make homemade palm wine. But Keena's parents were famous primatologists who shuttled her and her sister between Philadelphia and Botswana every six months. Dreamer, reader, and adventurer, she was always far more comfortable avoiding lions and hippopotamuses than she was dealing with spoiled middle-school field hockey players. In Keena's funny, tender memoir, Wild Life, Africa bleeds into America and vice versa, each culture amplifying the other. By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, Wild Life is ultimately the story of a daring but sensitive young girl desperately trying to figure out if there's any place where she truly fits in.

When I first heard about Keena's book during one of the #Class2k19Books chats that we were given the awesome opportunity to host, I was immediately intrigued. A story about a girl who split her time growing up between her parents' research camp in Botswana and an elite high school in Philly? It sounded exactly like Mean Girls, which is exactly up my alley. And when I found out that it was nonfiction, and was actually Keena's own experience? That was even better. So without further ado, let's get into my review!

As the summary explains, this book is an actual nonfiction account of Keena's childhood as she grew up, both in Africa and America. I hadn't ever read YA nonfiction before, so I wasn't sure what to expect before I got into this book, but Keena's writing so well done that the book felt like any other fiction I'd pull off of the shelf. I flew through this book in just a few days because I loved it so much and couldn't put it down! Plus, it was pretty cool to keep reminding myself that everything I was reading was actually stuff that happened to Keena in her own life. It was -- no pun intended -- a wild ride of a read!

Another thing that I really liked about this book was the way Keena described the experiences in America. Those were the parts where I got definite Mean Girls vibes, where it felt like young Keena was more at risk around the high school predators of jealous girls and rude boys, rather than all of the wild life she encountered during her time in Africa. It also made me really sad to read about how bullied she was when she first came to American schools after Africa, because remembering that this was a real story and that there were really people who were this mean to kids that were different than them was pretty sad. But young Keena handled it all with grace and intellect, and watching her brave her way through the "high school wild" was just as fascinating as it was to read about her adventures in Botswana. 

My favorite part of this book was just seeing all of the different ways that Keena and her family survived at Baboon Camp. As someone who isn't even good at camping when it's in my own backyard, seeing her family manage to make a home out of what started as an empty stretch of land was really cool to see. And, like I've probably said a million times since I started this review, the fact that I know that this all really happened, and I know Keena through blogging (she's such a great friend, and I'm on her street team!), it gave the book another special element to me. Reading this book really did leave me feeling warm and fuzzy inside by the end!

Overall, I absolutely loved Wild Life, and I'd absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for an adventurous read! Keena Roberts weaves her life experience together in such a captivating way that will hook you from the very first word and keep you hanging on until the very end. If you've never tried nonfiction before, or specifically YA nonfiction, I'd absolutely encourage you to pick this one up. Wild Life is something different, refreshing, and new. It will take you on an adventure across the world that you may not expect, and you learn a lot about the book's fabulous author in the process!


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