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Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ⚡ Aspiring Evil Overlord ⚡ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest The movie Mean Girls opens up with Cady Heron returning to normal high school life after spending the last 12 years in Africa with her zoologist parents. Applying the same observational skills she acquired in Africa, Cady quickly observes that people, like animals, tend to stay in their own groups and exhibit hierarchical displays of social dominance and aggression. I always thought that was a really cool hook but it seemed unrealistic-- Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest The movie Mean Girls opens up with Cady Heron returning to normal high school life after spending the last 12 years in Africa with her zoologist parents. Applying the same observational skills she acquired in Africa, Cady quickly observes that people, like animals, tend to stay in their own groups and exhibit hierarchical displays of social dominance and aggression. I always thought that was a really cool hook but it seemed unrealistic-- until I picked up WILD LIFE, and realized that Keena is literally Cady. Keena grew up in Kenya and Zimbabwe with her primatologist parents, spending the majority of her time in a baboon camp. While camping in Africa, she learned many survival skills, such as how to treat severe dehydration and survive in temperatures reaching 130 degrees; how to react in a leopard or lion attack; how to shoot the head of a snake and wield a spear; and some unconventional first aid techniques, such as the use of a stun gun to neutralize snake venom. To keep their grants, though, her parents had to continually return back to the United States to teach, and so, by proxy, did Keena and her younger sister, Lucy. In her private school in Philadelphia, Keena quickly learned that most of the kids didn't care about anything she picked up in Africa, regarding her as a freak and calling her names; the very things that made her unique and a survivalist made her unliked and ostracized from her peers, especially since her interests-- animals and fantasy books-- didn't really sync up with the trends in pop-culture. I picked up this book partially because the premise sounded like a real life Mean Girls, and it was that, but also so much more. I love travel memoirs, especially if the author is really skilled at imparting the details of their journey, and WILD LIFE is an especially cinematographic memoir: I really felt like I was in the veldts of Botswana, having real life encounters with lions, and baboons, and hippos (oh my). When she described the 130-degree heatwave that made all of their equipment melt, I felt a little dizzy, myself. She's an incredible narrator, and during every step of this memoir, I felt like I was really seeing everything through her eyes. It was incredible. One of the flaws of memoirs is that if you don't like the person writing the book, when you're rating a book you kind of have to rate the person. The corollary to that is, if you like the person writing the book, you feel like you've made a new best friend. Keena Roberts is so cool and I saw so much of myself in her-- a tomboyish, awkward book nerd with unconventional and obsessive interests and a love of facts and animals. I took it personally when she was bullied by her peers, because I had a similar experience in middle school and high school, and seeing her get stung by rejection but stay true to herself despite everything made me really wish that I could have been her friend in school. WILD LIFE is such a fantastic memoir and it's completely different from other travel memoirs that I've read. Her knowledge and passion and genuine love of reading and the written word make this such a pleasure to read, and I think anyone who feels like they don't fit in will relate to Keena Roberts' own personal Mean Girls adventure-- complete with bonus scenes set in Africa. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!   4.5 stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erin Khar

    I was fortunate to be able to read an advanced copy of Wild Life. This is the kind of memoir that surprises, the kind you can't put down. It's going to appeal to a broad audience — will please both adults and the YA crowd. I absolutely loved this book. Keena's strong voice is funny and fresh and bright. I was enthralled with her adventures; there is a certain magic that comes through the pages. I highly recommend this captivating gem of a book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This review and more can be found on The Book Bratz. 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? This review and more can be found on The Book Bratz. 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!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I rarely, if ever, read memoirs. Every now and then, if it’s someone of great cultural/historical significance, then perhaps, but I tend to stay away, especially if it’s just your average person. It’s a subjective thing, really, nothing against the genre of a whole. Keena Roberts’s Wild Life, however, is a phenomenal example and I’m so happy that I was given the opportunity to read her ARC. She tells her story with depth, humor, and heart, and when you’re done, you can almost believe you were I rarely, if ever, read memoirs. Every now and then, if it’s someone of great cultural/historical significance, then perhaps, but I tend to stay away, especially if it’s just your average person. It’s a subjective thing, really, nothing against the genre of a whole. Keena Roberts’s Wild Life, however, is a phenomenal example and I’m so happy that I was given the opportunity to read her ARC. She tells her story with depth, humor, and heart, and when you’re done, you can almost believe you were studying in Kenya or Botswana right alongside her. Roberts spent much of her life growing up in a variety of African settings with her primatologist parents. There she absorbed everything she could living among wild animals and often felt more at home with them than she did when she would return to her American schools. She could understand how and why wild animals acted, but she couldn’t wrap her head around the meanness of her classmates. I’m amazed at how much life she packs into less than 300 pages. Aside from learning about her fascinating upbringing, I learned even more about Africa, particularly the landscape and life in places such as Kenya, and Botswana—the animals, the people, their illnesses and struggles as well as their passions and humanity. Through vivid descriptions, you will smell the rain, sweat in the 130 degree temperatures, feel the dust clogging your nose. This book is a triumph and as a YA-geared release, I can see its usefulness in a variety of academic settings. But anyone of her age bracket (and anyone else, really) will easily relate as well, as she writes about contemporary world events as they unfolded in her life. When she mentions the death of Princess Diana and 9/11, well, I was instantly transported to my teenage days too. Thank you to the author for passing along a copy of this ARC to review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    K.A. Black

    This is, by far, the best non-fic book I've read. Roberts drops you right into her life at a young age and does a great job of bringing you right along with her first to Kenya, then the US, and finally to Botswana. I found myself having to actively pull myself away because I wanted to know all about Roberts growing up between the two continents and the different lives she led between them. How she saw herself as two parts (something I'm sure many geeks or nerds can relate to), and having to hide This is, by far, the best non-fic book I've read. Roberts drops you right into her life at a young age and does a great job of bringing you right along with her first to Kenya, then the US, and finally to Botswana. I found myself having to actively pull myself away because I wanted to know all about Roberts growing up between the two continents and the different lives she led between them. How she saw herself as two parts (something I'm sure many geeks or nerds can relate to), and having to hide one part to fit in (same). And the ending! With the lion! Goodness. This is a true look into a different life that provides such valuable insight into the heart of a caring woman and the research her family did to help those on our earth that cannot speak for themselves in a way we understand. This book is worthy of all praise.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Coon

    I’ve never been so in love with a memoir. Roberts brought me to the Okavango Delta and her family’s research baboon camp, and I felt as if I were actually there. With vivid descriptions and harrowing real life tales (I am SHOCKED by that boat she captained at 10 years old), her storytelling snagged me by the mouth and reeled me in. This is one of my favorite reads this year!!!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Carole (Carole's Random Life in Books)

    This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books. I really enjoyed this book! If you follow my reviews, you probably already know that my taste in books is pretty eclectic. While I am willing to read anything that sounds interesting, I don't read a lot of memoirs because they rarely appeal to me. I have zero desire to read about celebrities which eliminates a lot of memoirs. A story about a normal person doing extraordinary things is exactly the kind of thing I can get into so I This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books. I really enjoyed this book! If you follow my reviews, you probably already know that my taste in books is pretty eclectic. While I am willing to read anything that sounds interesting, I don't read a lot of memoirs because they rarely appeal to me. I have zero desire to read about celebrities which eliminates a lot of memoirs. A story about a normal person doing extraordinary things is exactly the kind of thing I can get into so I went with my gut and gave this book a try and I am so glad that I did. Once I started reading this book, I didn't want to stop and ended up reading the whole book in a single day. Keena's childhood was quite unique. Her parents studied animals in their own environment and took the whole family with them. She spent the first few years of her life in Kenya but most of her childhood was split between Botswana and Philadelphia. While in Baboon Camp in Botswana, Keena and her family lived in tents and had to watch out for lions, elephants, and buffalo. While in school, she had to deal with kids who liked being mean to anyone who was a little different. From her descriptions, I would have preferred life with the lions over going to high school as she did. I loved getting to know Keena through her stories. There were times that I worried about her and feared that she would get hurt. I sympathized with her when she struggled to fit in at school. I was a little jealous of her when she described the days that she would spend the day in a tree reading while at camp. I was amazed by her ability to think clearly in highly stressful situations. The descriptions in the book are very well done and I felt like I had a good idea of what life was like at camp. I loved that there were a few photos scattered throughout the book to help illustrate some of the things discussed in the book. I would recommend this book to others. I found this book to be very entertaining and I feel like I learned a few things in the process. I wouldn't hesitate to read more from Keena Roberts in the future. I received a review copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing. Initial Thoughts I really enjoyed this book. I don't read a lot of memoirs but when I do decide to pick one up it is usually about a normal person doing extraordinary things instead of anything dealing with a celebrity. I couldn't imagine growing up like Keena did before reading this book. I understood her love of nature and animals while struggling to fit in during her times in the United States. I thought that she did a fantastic job of letting the reader see what both aspects of her life were like. I was worried about her safety at times and her emotional welfare at others. I am so glad that I decided to give this one a try.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    I enjoyed this book so much, I worry there is no possible way I could write a review worthy of the book. As lacking as my review might be (if I could give myself the kind of pep talk Keena gave herself - those were fantastic - I might have a chance of writing an acceptable review), this book is better than good or great - it's quality, and a treasure. It's not just the exciting adventures that Keena has in Kenya or in Botswana, when she lived in Baboon Camp and makes pretty admirable I enjoyed this book so much, I worry there is no possible way I could write a review worthy of the book. As lacking as my review might be (if I could give myself the kind of pep talk Keena gave herself - those were fantastic - I might have a chance of writing an acceptable review), this book is better than good or great - it's quality, and a treasure. It's not just the exciting adventures that Keena has in Kenya or in Botswana, when she lived in Baboon Camp and makes pretty admirable contributions, with her little sister Lucy, to her parents' research regarding the baboons, it's the way these adventures are expressed and told that make everything so vivid and so very interesting and exciting. Keena is a fabulous storyteller, who puts herself into everything - adventures, hopes, plans, challenges, fears, triumphs, tears - that she shares. And it's interesting to see how Keena ponders the question: Which is scarier (and possibly more dangerous)? Baboon camp (with its snakes, particularly mambas; lions; elephants, crocodiles - yes, man-eating; hippos, threats of fires, boat disasters, dehydration - just to name a few), or school in Pennsylvania? Keena must decide who she is, wherever she may be living, and how to be herself. Really, a fantastic, captivating, continually adventurous read I can't recommend highly enough!

  9. 5 out of 5

    SundayAtDusk

    After reading Keena Robert's memoir, I am going to assume the front cover photo is photoshopped, since one learns from the book that the hippopotamus is the most dangerous creature in all of Africa. Personally, I learned lots and lots of stuff about life in Africa that I did not know. Ms. Roberts fascinates the reader with all that she experienced as a child living in Botswana, part of the year, with her little sister and parents who were both primatologists. All that she had to do to be a part After reading Keena Robert's memoir, I am going to assume the front cover photo is photoshopped, since one learns from the book that the hippopotamus is the most dangerous creature in all of Africa. Personally, I learned lots and lots of stuff about life in Africa that I did not know. Ms. Roberts fascinates the reader with all that she experienced as a child living in Botswana, part of the year, with her little sister and parents who were both primatologists. All that she had to do to be a part of a primate studying camp, all that she had to do to not be injured or killed by a wild animal. While reading her story, I amusingly often thought that any helicopter parent who read the memoir would probably see it as a sick type of science fiction. Seriously, the things Keena Roberts and her sister Lucy were expected to learn and carry out would probably give a helicopter parent convulsions. Basically, the girls were treated like small adults from a very young age. On one hand, it showed how capable children are of doing difficult and dangerous tasks, when it is expected of them by their parents. On the other hand, one had to question the judgment of Ms. Robert's parents at times, had to question if they were lacking in some common parental protectiveness. Both her parents were scientific types, who apparently did not talk about feelings much, and were not physically demonstrative. Even back in the United States, during the school years when the girls were in a private Philadelphia school, her parents seemed strangely uninvolved in her life at times. For example, the author was harassed by boys on the phone for a long time, and her parents knew about it, but did nothing to stop it; even though they easily could have, since the calls were being made to the family's landline! Her mother sympathized with her about the calls, but apparently felt that was life and you just had to accept such things. Also, back in Botswana, she was allowed to drink beer and hard liquor even before entering high school. Don't get the wrong impression here, though, this memoir is thankfully not a parent bashing one, or even one that spends much time reflecting on family dynamics. (Amazing since the author majored in psychology at Harvard.) It's more of an adventure story, plus a look at what it is like to be considered really odd by many kids at school, because you were different, due to having a totally different life part of the year in Africa. Kids said really mean things to Ms. Roberts even in her senior year, after years of her trying to fit in with everyone else, trying to be somewhat invisible. It was a shame all the wildness of Africa, all the courage she had to have to live and survive there, didn't make her a bit more like a hippopotamus when she was in school in Philadelphia. She could have ripped the heads off of those mean kids! :) (Note: I received a free ARC of this book from Amazon Vine.)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I always wondered where Pippi Longstocking went on her journeys, and I feel like I just got a little glimpse. It’s hard to believe that this is a memoir and that’s what I loved most about it. I like memoirs but they’re often so depressing. Wild Life reads like YA fiction! It has its sad moments but was more often a funny, relatable book told in the voice of a charming, if sometimes naive, child. If you like animals, nature facts, and travel there is a lot to love about this book. I learned so I always wondered where Pippi Longstocking went on her journeys, and I feel like I just got a little glimpse. It’s hard to believe that this is a memoir and that’s what I loved most about it. I like memoirs but they’re often so depressing. Wild Life reads like YA fiction! It has its sad moments but was more often a funny, relatable book told in the voice of a charming, if sometimes naive, child. If you like animals, nature facts, and travel there is a lot to love about this book. I learned so much! Wild Life is the story of a girl named Keena who is the daughter of monkey researchers, living part time in Africa and part time in the US as her family travels back and forth. The book covers her adventures in Kenya and Botswana and her struggle to fit in after long absences from her school in Pennsylvania through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. The parts in Botswana were my hands down favorites because of all the adventures and insider’s look into what it would be like to live in lion/hippo/baboon country, hours away from the nearest town. But, the book wouldn’t be the same without the US bits too- it feels much more approachable because of Keena’s take on life in the US. In American and British lit we so often see wide-eyed descriptions of remote wilderness, foreign countries, etc. and it was really cool to see Keena turn that on its head and describe private school in PA as foreign instead (a la Mean Girls but with a Bar Mitzvah instead of a kegger). Would definitely recommend.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Margo Tanenbaum

    I loved this memoir about a young American girl growing up in Kenya and Botswana as the child of American baboon researchers/academics. Much to her dismay, her parents made her go to high school in the US, where she never quite fit in at a Pennsylvania elite private school. In the bush, with only her sister for a playmate, she was treated as a small adult by both African staff , her parents, and other adults, given a level of responsibility that she never would have had in the US. No wonder she I loved this memoir about a young American girl growing up in Kenya and Botswana as the child of American baboon researchers/academics. Much to her dismay, her parents made her go to high school in the US, where she never quite fit in at a Pennsylvania elite private school. In the bush, with only her sister for a playmate, she was treated as a small adult by both African staff , her parents, and other adults, given a level of responsibility that she never would have had in the US. No wonder she found it hard to fit in with the privileged Mainline teenagers, who regarded her as a freak. Her powers of observation, developed by years of observing baboons and other wildlife in the bush, serve her well as she studies her adolescent classmates, and she learns to survive in the wilds of an American high school but never quite feels at ease the way she does in the bush. I highly recommend this memoir as a classic "coming of age" story as Keena tries to figure out where she fits in, as well as an enchanting description of life in the African bush, where lions and elephants can be around any bend, poisonous mambas lurk, and baboons become your friends. I would recommend this as a good read for teens as well as adults.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Beth Brittingham

    Keena's story was amazing to me. Having had two children, I couldn't imagine taking them away from creature comforts and relative safety to go half way around the world to live in a baboon camp. Literally. I don't want to be a spoiler so not too many details but several times in the book my heart was racing. Danger! When it wasn't racing, it was breaking. With what seemed like break neck speed she navigated between the Okavango Delta in Botswana to prep school in America. Bullies! Good read!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eva Seyler

    People, I’ve been waiting eagerly for this book since the minute I first heard about it early this year. I just finished reading an ARC and it was as amazing as I’d hoped. Having grown up in the same era, in a weird subculture of my own, I could really identify with the culture shock and the societal expectations Keena faced every time she went back to the US as a kid. I loved the tales of animal encounters too and the contrasts between animal social structures vs those of humans.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    This is a great read about growing up in a life divided between the social hierarchy of a baboon troop in the Okavango Delta, where the author's primatologist parents studied how the baboons communicated, and the much crueler hierarchy of the mean girls back home at a high school in Philadelphia. Highly recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lissa

    This memoir follows the author's dual lives as she follow her parents to their work in Africa with monkeys to Pennsylvania where she attends a normal school. The adjustment is not an easy one for her and the resulting coming of age tale is filled with honesty, growth and humor. Her descriptions of Botswana are breathtaking and the stories she tells of the animals she come into daily contact with are amazing. This is definitely my favorite memoir of the year. I received a digital ARC of this book This memoir follows the author's dual lives as she follow her parents to their work in Africa with monkeys to Pennsylvania where she attends a normal school. The adjustment is not an easy one for her and the resulting coming of age tale is filled with honesty, growth and humor. Her descriptions of Botswana are breathtaking and the stories she tells of the animals she come into daily contact with are amazing. This is definitely my favorite memoir of the year. I received a digital ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dahlia

    I don't usually read memoirs but I absolutely devoured this one in a single night because I couldn't put it down. It's fun and different and interesting and most of it feels like if you got to see a documentary on Mean Girls that delved strictly into those brief clips from Africa, and then it lands in an unexpected place that's exactly where it should and that I really appreciated. As soon as I finished I got excited to lend it out and recommend it, and that's one of my absolute favorite I don't usually read memoirs but I absolutely devoured this one in a single night because I couldn't put it down. It's fun and different and interesting and most of it feels like if you got to see a documentary on Mean Girls that delved strictly into those brief clips from Africa, and then it lands in an unexpected place that's exactly where it should and that I really appreciated. As soon as I finished I got excited to lend it out and recommend it, and that's one of my absolute favorite post-reading feelings.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I loved every minute of this memoir of Roberts's unique childhood. She, her sister, and her parents, research primatologists, spent half of their year working in Botswana in "Baboon Camp" and the rest of the year off the Main Line in the Philly suburbs at a private school. It's a really fascinating story of falling in love with Africa and growing up understanding what it is to be privileged enough to live such a life, as well as what it is to have a really wild and free -- yet at times downright I loved every minute of this memoir of Roberts's unique childhood. She, her sister, and her parents, research primatologists, spent half of their year working in Botswana in "Baboon Camp" and the rest of the year off the Main Line in the Philly suburbs at a private school. It's a really fascinating story of falling in love with Africa and growing up understanding what it is to be privileged enough to live such a life, as well as what it is to have a really wild and free -- yet at times downright terrifying -- childhood. The ability to interweave her less-than-happy American experience really made this one stand out to me, and without question, this book has loads of crossover appeal to teen readers. It's told in anecdotes, with a number of pictures, as well as entries from Keena's diaries.

  18. 5 out of 5

    K.A. Doore

    WILD LIFE is such a fun and thoughtful and heart-filled memoir. Deftly written, it's the story of a girl who grows up with one foot solidly in a research camp in Botswana and one toe tentatively in a private school in Philadelphia. It's filled with the kind of stories that would never work in fiction, because they'd be considered "too unrealistic" - yet they all happened to Roberts. It's hard to review memoir because there's a real person tangled up in the story, but I thought the balance of WILD LIFE is such a fun and thoughtful and heart-filled memoir. Deftly written, it's the story of a girl who grows up with one foot solidly in a research camp in Botswana and one toe tentatively in a private school in Philadelphia. It's filled with the kind of stories that would never work in fiction, because they'd be considered "too unrealistic" - yet they all happened to Roberts. It's hard to review memoir because there's a real person tangled up in the story, but I thought the balance of narration and revelation was spot on. I especially loved the way the novel grew from confined and self-centered viewpoint of a child to the empathetic, outward-gazing viewpoint of a young woman. The first part is playful and innocent, but the memoir's themes and understanding grows more complex along with Roberts, turning from an inward-gazing memoir to an outward-gazing not-quite-manifesto. Basically I'm marveling at the structure here. This memoir is beautiful and engaging and amazing. I laughed. I might have teared up a bit at that one scene (you know the one). I was relieved by the casual inclusion of Roberts' queerness. This is a growing up story like no other, and the kind that leaves you both amazed at the person who wrote it as well as inspired to try and be half as awesome yourself.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I had such a wonderful time reading about Keena Robert's childhood. She has lived in Africa and Botswana. Yet, occasionally, she and her family would come back to the United States when her parents were done with their research in the "field" and needed to come back to compile their research and renew their passports. The first time that Keena went back to public school in the US; I felt back for her. I could picture her dance with the gorilla and all of the other girls in their ballet outfits. I had such a wonderful time reading about Keena Robert's childhood. She has lived in Africa and Botswana. Yet, occasionally, she and her family would come back to the United States when her parents were done with their research in the "field" and needed to come back to compile their research and renew their passports. The first time that Keena went back to public school in the US; I felt back for her. I could picture her dance with the gorilla and all of the other girls in their ballet outfits. Keena does move to the own beat of her drum. I am envious of her childhood. What an amazing experience. This is one of the best memoir/coming of age books that I have read in a long time. I did not feel like there was any gaps missing and I got to know Keena. Wow, it is shocking that this is Keena's debut novel; readers better watch out for Keena's next book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Bayer

    Great read. I'm starting it with with my kids today after finishing it myself. Full review on my homeschool site here: http://magicalchildhood.com/homeschoo...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Karen Canova

    This wonderful book is many things — a marvelous adventure-filled memoir by the daughter of primatologists who spent her formative years in Kenya then Botswana living in a camp near the baboons that her parents studied, as well as a beautifully written, at times heartbreaking, coming-of-age story about the challenges of peer pressure and fitting in during those periods when the family was living back in the US. The author’s parents were academics who, when not in the field studying baboons, were This wonderful book is many things — a marvelous adventure-filled memoir by the daughter of primatologists who spent her formative years in Kenya then Botswana living in a camp near the baboons that her parents studied, as well as a beautifully written, at times heartbreaking, coming-of-age story about the challenges of peer pressure and fitting in during those periods when the family was living back in the US. The author’s parents were academics who, when not in the field studying baboons, were obligated to teach courses at the University of Pennsylvania. Before reading, I expected to enjoy the Baboon Camp chapters much more than the “button-down” US-based parts, but can honestly say I enjoyed both parts equally. The incredible sometimes hair-raising episodes from her years living with the wildlife in Kenya and Botswana sit comfortably next to the often hair-raising encounters she has with her human peers at a private school in suburban Philadelphia. “Mean Girls” certainly comes to mind when reading those chapters! I found myself holding my breath while waiting for the author to return to her beloved Botswana. I also appreciate the thoughtfulness with which she approaches the concept of white privilege in her adored “home” in Botswana, recognizing, as an outsider and an American, she will never experience life there in the same way as someone who is actually from Botswana. Despite her “outsider” status, I am extremely grateful Keena Roberts was able to tell her unique, moving, riveting story. I highly recommend “Wild Life” and give it five very enthusiastic stars! *****

  22. 4 out of 5

    Chris Baron

    I was fortunate to read an advanced copy of Wild Life. So first of all--ever since I was a kid I have dreamed of going to the Okavango Delta, so when I read about the premise of this book I immediately put at the top of my "to-read." It did not disappoint. I love non-fiction-and creative non-fiction even more and this book is so beautifully told from start to finish. The reflection between Baboon Camp and going to school in Philadelphia is eye opening, painfully true, and hopeful. Not only is I was fortunate to read an advanced copy of Wild Life. So first of all--ever since I was a kid I have dreamed of going to the Okavango Delta, so when I read about the premise of this book I immediately put at the top of my "to-read." It did not disappoint. I love non-fiction-and creative non-fiction even more and this book is so beautifully told from start to finish. The reflection between Baboon Camp and going to school in Philadelphia is eye opening, painfully true, and hopeful. Not only is this book a wonderful story, but the language is beautiful-poetic-and hit all the right notes for me. I hope to use this book in Creative Non-fiction courses!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs by [Roberts, Keena]Keena Roberts is a girl divided. Some of her time is spent in Botswana on an island camp, but she also spends time at a Philadelphia private school. While in Philadelphia she is inundated by preppy school rules and hierarchy. This is the same girl that can sleep, and cook at a campsite and lives close to a baboon colony so her parents could study the animals. This girl who enjoys dreaming and going on adventures Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs by [Roberts, Keena]Keena Roberts is a girl divided. Some of her time is spent in Botswana on an island camp, but she also spends time at a Philadelphia private school. While in Philadelphia she is inundated by preppy school rules and hierarchy. This is the same girl that can sleep, and cook at a campsite and lives close to a baboon colony so her parents could study the animals. This girl who enjoys dreaming and going on adventures isn't sure how to fit in with spoiled kids. She would rather be in Botswana where her primatologist parents taught her how to make bread and to carve bird whistles from palm nuts. This is a wonderful touching memoir by Keena Roberts. It shows how this girls America life influences her life in Botswana and vice versa. It is very funny at times but yet has its tender moments. It tells the story of a girl, coming of age, who is trying to find where she fits in. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys nature and travel. This is a fun, educational book. I was given this book by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kris Waldherr

    One of the most charming and fascinating memoirs I've read in a long time. Yes, the set up of Roberts' story is akin to "Mean Girls", though Roberts is far more interesting company than Cady (much as I adore Tina Fey's film). But WILD LIFE is so much more than a "Mean Girls" clone. Roberts' account of her ten years residing in Baboon Camp, which is exactly what you'd expect it to be, reveals an astonishingly self-aware and badass kid who can also write evocatively about the natural world. While One of the most charming and fascinating memoirs I've read in a long time. Yes, the set up of Roberts' story is akin to "Mean Girls", though Roberts is far more interesting company than Cady (much as I adore Tina Fey's film). But WILD LIFE is so much more than a "Mean Girls" clone. Roberts' account of her ten years residing in Baboon Camp, which is exactly what you'd expect it to be, reveals an astonishingly self-aware and badass kid who can also write evocatively about the natural world. While WILD LIFE includes many jaw-dropping animal stories (note to self: avoid hippos), WILD LIFE is also a coming of age story about the formation of a young girl's awareness of what it means to find one's place in the world. Ultimately, WILD LIFE is a bittersweet journey through an extraordinary childhood—and one I could not put down. Highly recommended.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dawn McGill Dalrymple

    I'm not a normal non fiction reader but when I read the description I knew I had to read it. Thank you Grand Central Publishing for the book to read and review. I really did feel like I was in Africa the details were unbelievable and made me feel like I was watching an episode of a show on Animal Planet. Then the parts about America I felt like it tapped into everyone's feelings of insecurity. This was such a great read highly recommended for any animal lovers or coming of age readers!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ivy

    Caveat: I know Keena Roberts from her time in Washington, D.C. when we suffered together in CrossFit classes. Even so, I would gravitate to this sweet and heartfelt memoir of Keena's childhood split between rugged baboon camp in Botswana and prep school in Philadelphia. Keena's voice is sincere and her writing is clear and simple. It is an easy read that really pulls at your heart. I wanted to punch the mean girls for her and I wanted to go out in the malepo with her in the motorboat. Wild Life Caveat: I know Keena Roberts from her time in Washington, D.C. when we suffered together in CrossFit classes. Even so, I would gravitate to this sweet and heartfelt memoir of Keena's childhood split between rugged baboon camp in Botswana and prep school in Philadelphia. Keena's voice is sincere and her writing is clear and simple. It is an easy read that really pulls at your heart. I wanted to punch the mean girls for her and I wanted to go out in the malepo with her in the motorboat. Wild Life would be appropriate reading for teens and up. It is for everyone, but especially anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. For me as a parent, it definitely has me thinking I should be encouraging my kids to do harder things. Throughout the book, Keena makes analogies and allusions to fantasy novels. This works so well, especially Narnia references because entering Baboon Camp is like stepping into another world. Every chapter that transitioned back to Botswana felt like a return to a charmed land, just like Narnia. And just like Narnia, as Keena got older and understood the ways of the real Botswana and the real America and her real self, being in Baboon Camp got harder. The final lion encounter echoes Narnia as well: the lion tells her, like Aslan, you are ready. Go. Be yourself. Be bold, and kind, and different, and make a difference in the world. The Keena I know does that.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mary E

    Could NOT put it down and want a sequel already

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Great read

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carrie Allen

    Fascinating and fun and relatable-- even if you didn't happen to grow up with baboons. Spans Keena's childhood and teen years, but will appeal to readers from young YA all the way through adult.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Fayelle Ewuakye

    Well, this became one of my favorite books ever. I could picture it all. And it was so personal, not documentary-ish, just storytelling. Absolutely loved it.

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