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Primatologist Jenny Lowe is studying bonobo chimpanzees deep in the Congo when she is caught in a deadly civil war that leaves a fellow researcher dead and his daughter, Lucy, orphaned. Realizing that the child has no living relatives, Jenny begins to care for Lucy as her own. But as she reads the late scientist’s notebooks, she discovers that Lucy is the result of a shocking experiment, and that the adorable, magical, wonderful girl she has come to love is an entirely new ...
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Primatologist Jenny Lowe is studying bonobo chimpanzees deep in the Congo when she is caught in a deadly civil war that leaves a fellow researcher dead and his daughter, Lucy, orphaned. Realizing that the child has no living relatives, Jenny begins to care for Lucy as her own. But as she reads the late scientist’s notebooks, she discovers that Lucy is the result of a shocking experiment, and that the adorable, magical, wonderful girl she has come to love is an entirely new hybrid species—half human, half bonobo.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[Gonzales has] Crichton’s gift for page-turning storytelling, but also a vivid, literary-grade prose style, and a knack for getting inside his characters’ heads.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Does time ever flow when you’re caught up in this one! . . .  A fast-paced . . . book you’ll keep on reading, through heat or cold, rain or snow or sleet.” — All Things Considered (NPR)
Primatologist Jenny Lowe is studying bonobo chimpanzees deep in the Congo when she is caught in a deadly civil war that leaves a fellow researcher dead and his daughter, Lucy, orphaned. Realizing that the child has no living relatives, Jenny begins to care for Lucy as her own. But as she reads the late scientist’s notebooks, she discovers that Lucy is the result of a shocking experiment, and that the adorable, magical, wonderful girl she has come to love is an entirely new hybrid species—half human, half ape.
Lucy is fundamentally a story about love. . . .  Heartbreaking and heartwarming, hard to put down and hard to forget.” —The Miami Herald
“Outstanding. . . . [Lucy] is beach reading with bite.” —Chicago Tribune
“Lucy is an appealing character—a bright, perceptive, lonely, observant adolescent…. [Gonzales] makes . . .  her transformation from a shy, unsure outsider into an all-American teenager thoroughly believable” —The New York Times
“Michael Crichton fans will go ape for this fascinating … Frankenstein tale.” —People

“Gonzales poses some big questions that readers will think about long after turning the last page. Lucy is a great read—and not just for adults.” Chicago Sun-Times
“Gonzales’s Lucy is an improbably delightful young lady. . . . Lucy pulls the reader in because of the sweet girl at its center, but the novel also makes one think about what it means to be human, and how love can be a bridge to understanding and acceptance.” —BookPage
“Timely and provocative. . . . Gonzales injects [his dialogue] with doses of frivolity, wit, and a youthful insight at once frightfully innocent and calculatingly wise to the power of media and technology.” —The Boston Globe
“[A] coming-of-age-except-I’m-also-part-bonobo biotech thriller. . . . This is an enjoyable ride that makes you think about what it means to be human.” —Outside
“The clever ending Mr. Gonzales has come up with for Lucy marks a complete departure from the Frankenstein template, and it’s oddly satisfying on an emotional level.” —The New York Times
Lucy is more than a high-school drama, a fish-out-of-water novel about how a hybrid girl tries to fit in at a suburban Chicago high school. . . . This Lucy is an action-packed politically charged thriller that puts evolution forth as an unassailable fact, and raises ethical and moral questions about biotechnical science, government power and the morality of leadership.” —Chicago Tribune
“Laurence Gonzales presents us with a captivating lead character. . . . Part science thriller, part tender novel, Lucy is written with a full awareness of the evil people are capable of. Gonzales, like Mary Shelley before him, shows us on the brink of a terrible knowledge.” —The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA) 
“Harks back to the science fiction of the mid-20th century. . . . Lucy [is] a likeable and thoroughly intriguing character with a unique perspective. . . . Reveals a generous spirit and a flair for suspense.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“Love and loss are at the core of this unusual story that analyzes life, relationships and issues of evolution.” —Woman’s Day
“Gonzales excels at creating universal moments.” —The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
“Shrewd social critique. . . . Gonzales raises profound questions about identity, family, animal and human rights, and genetic engineering without compromising the ever-escalating suspense. Lucy is irresistible, her predicament wrenching, and Gonzales’s imaginative, sweet-natured, hard-charging, and deeply inquisitive thriller will be a catalyst for serious thought and debate.” —Booklist 
“A riveting, moving and informative survival story.” —San Antonio Express-News
“Lucy is much more than an ‘ape’ and this novel is much more than just a summer beach book.” —Curled Up With A Good Book
“Gonzales does a great job of keeping the action moving at a fast pace. . . . Gonzales comes back to the question of what it means to be human again and again. . . . Reading Lucy is an interesting way to confront this question and find your own answer.” —The Advocate

Publishers Weekly
When anthropologist Jenny Lowe brings Lucy, the teenage daughter of a murdered colleague, back home with her to Chicago from the Congo in Gonzales's glib biological thriller, Jenny puts the girl's behavioral quirks down to unfamiliarity with the world outside the jungle. But when Lucy shows uncommon strength, agility, and sensitivities typical of animals, Jenny is shocked to realize that Lucy is a "humanzee": half human, half bonobo. Lucy soon becomes a magnet for the controversy that has colored debates between creationists and evolutionists for decades, as well as an object of interest to a clandestine military think tank. Gonzales (Everyday Survival) condenses considerable topical discussion of evolution issues into his narrative, but his underdeveloped characters are little more than one-dimensional mouthpieces for the viewpoints they espouse. A tidy, anticlimactic ending fails to do justice to the many controversial points the novel raises. 100,000 first printing. (July)
Library Journal
Primatologist Jenny Lowe barely escapes warfare in the heart of the Congo, but she manages to save the teenage daughter of a murdered fellow researcher. The orphaned Lucy is a revelation to Jenny: Lucy's mother was a bonobo, or pygmy chimpanzee. The idealistic Jenny essentially adopts her well-educated, tree-swinging young charge, and they settle in Chicago. The remarkably articulate and resilient Lucy adapts to high school, sometimes exhibiting unique skill sets. But a DNA test betrays her and when the unbelievable truth comes out, Lucy's survivalist instincts kick in. Is there a place in our world for a hybrid girl? The story alternates between adventure and scientific treatise, and is a good choice for those missing Michael Crichton's speculative fiction. Sometimes poignant, sometimes corny, Lucy still manages to examine cultural standards with fresh eyes. VERDICT Those intrigued by what-if scenarios will find Lucy's search for a quality life—is she human or ape?—compelling. It is totally appropriate for the YA audience and will appeal to those who like to debate bioethical issues. [100,000-copy first printing.]—Teresa L. Jacobsen, Solano Cty. Lib, Fairfield, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Masterful storyteller Gonzales (Everyday Survival, 2008, etc.) returns to fiction with a pensive meditation on a question of biology. The rise of the clone may be fast upon us, but Gonzales turns to a perhaps farther-fetched scenario with his imagining that somewhere in the Congolese jungle, not very long ago, ape and human came together to produce a child. Thus Lucy, who explains, "I'm a humanzee . . . Half human, half pigmy chimpanzee." Insists Jenny, a bonobo watcher who sweeps Lucy from the jungle a step ahead of murderous guerrillas in a time of civil war, "Don't ever call yourself that. You're a person." Ah, but there's the rub. Lucy, not quite a teen, is more at home in the trees than on the ground, small and agile, with "smooth tan skin" and "long dark hair standing out in a wild profusion of curls." She can hear danger coming from miles away, almost hear guns before they're fired-almost. But she can also recite Shakespeare and speak numerous languages ("French and Lingala. English, of course. Italian and Spanish. A little German. Dutch"). The humans she encounters sense that she's different, though they can't quite say why-perhaps because, even in London and Chicago, she enjoys time in the branches. Out in the human world, she both attracts and troubles them. And, as luck would have it, some of the perturbed are scientists who discover, through a neat plot twist, that Lucy isn't fully human-biologically, anyway-and may be dangerous to people, which in turn stirs up the G-men: "The presence of the human-animal hybrid within the borders of the United States . . . can be viewed-at least technically-as an act of terrorism." From Frankenstein on, we've seen how the presence of The Other can rankle the mob, and it is from that premise that Gonzales's story rockets into tragedy and beyond. Michael Crichton might have produced this had he had a literary sensibility. Thoroughly well-written, grounded in science and a sorrowful sense of human nature, this book is utterly memorable. First printing of 100,000/Author tour to Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307473905
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/12/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 681,833
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurence Gonzales is the author of three novels and five books of nonfiction. His best-selling book Deep Survival has been published in six languages.
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Read an Excerpt

Jenny awoke to thunder. There was no light yet. She reached out in darkness and found a tin of wooden matches on the ammunition case beside her bed. She selected one and struck it on the case. The flame flared red then yellow and sulfurous smoke rose. Newborn shadows danced on the walls of the hut. She touched the match to the wick of a candle and a light grew up from it like a yellow flower tinged with blue. Smoke hung in the still wet air. The interior of the hut seemed at once bare and cluttered. The walls were unpainted board, the floor was buckled plywood. Against one wall was a crude desk made out of a door, a few photographs tacked to the wall above it: Her mother at home near Chicago. Snapshots of the bonobos. Her friend Donna with the bonobos at the zoo.

Jenny swung her feet to the floor and listened. She’d heard the hissing of the rain all night. But now another sound had crept in. She pulled on her boots and stood, tall and tan and rangy in the yellow light. She ran her hand through her sandy hair and secured it carelessly behind her head.

She heard the sound again: Thunder. But now she heard the metallic overtones as the report echoed up into the hills, then returned. As she grew more awake Jenny realized that she was hearing guns. Big guns. The Congolese insurgents were firing rocket-propelled grenades. It had been a calculated risk for her to be here. But she had found the beautiful great apes known as bonobos irresistible. Year after year she had returned despite the danger. The fighting had flared and died down and flared up again for more than a decade and a half. Now the civil war had begun in earnest and she had to leave immediately. Her old friend David Meece at the British embassy in Kinshasa had warned her in no uncertain terms: You have no value and so they will kill you. When the shooting starts, go to the river as quickly as you can.

A whistling overhead. Another charge of metallic thunder. The blast from the explosion shook the pots above the camp stove. There was answering fire from the other direction.

She had expected to have more warning, an hour, half an hour. But they were upon her. She grabbed a flashlight, the machete, and the backpack that she kept ready for travel. She picked up a bottle that was half full of water and drank it in one long bubbling draught. Gasping for air she picked up a full bottle and clipped it to her belt.

She stepped out the door and into the clearing. She knew that entering the forest at night was a risk, but staying would be worse. She looked back at her hut and felt a rush of sadness, even as her pulse pounded in her neck. Then she turned and ran toward the forest, feeling the water sway uncomfortably in her gut.

The rain had stopped. The jungle before her was black and glistening in the flashlight beam. She had promised herself that she would make an effort to reach the British researcher, Donald Stone, whose observation post was on the way to the river. He had been courteous enough the few times she’d seen him. But their camps were far enough away that it had made dropping in for a casual visit impractical. All she knew was that he was studying bonobos, too, but didn’t seem to want to collaborate. Nevertheless, Jenny had decided to do her best to help him if it ever came to that. She’d heard that he had a daughter and if so . . . Well, this was no place for a child.

As she loped through the forest along familiar paths, she heard the low thump of a mortar, the whistling of the shell, then the steely shock of another explosion to the east. She smelled smoke. Then came the sporadic firing of automatic weapons.

As she hurried on, the first light of day began to penetrate the forest canopy. She switched off her flashlight and let her eyes adjust. Another shell went off and she ran ahead. Think, think: What was next? Check on Donald Stone. Then get to the river. If she could find someone with a radio, David would help. If he was still there. If the embassy was still standing. If, if, if.

She ran on through the day, following the one broad path that she knew led in the direction of Stone’s camp. She was concerned for the bonobos. They were amazingly strong yet paradoxically delicate creatures. The shock of loud noises could kill them. On the other hand, they were smart. They’d be miles away by now in the tops of the trees. Sometimes it seemed to Jenny that they were almost human. In graduate school in 1987 she had gone to work with the largest population of bonobos in captivity at the Milwaukee Zoo. They were among the last of the great apes. The first time Jenny had locked eyes with the dominant female at the zoo, she knew that she was looking at a creature who was far more like her than unlike her. Whenever she wasn’t working, she’d spend hours watching the bonobos. But once she’d gone to Congo to see them in the wild she knew where she belonged.

At a bend in the trail, she stopped to listen. The shelling seemed to have moved off to the east. She swatted at the flies and mosquitoes around her face. Sweat had soaked her shirt and was dripping from her scalp into her eyes. She wrapped a bandanna around her head and pressed on. Then a brief but intense rainstorm drenched her and she resigned herself to being wet. At least it had knocked the insects down.

She desperately wanted to rest, but as night fell she took a headlamp from her pack and kept on going. All night long she heard the fighting fade, then move closer, then fade again. Twice in the night she smelled the smoke.

Morning came slowly. A mist began to rise. The path narrowed, and she knew that soon she would see Stone’s camp. She’d been there only twice before. On both occasions she’d suggested that they work together, but Stone had politely pointed out that he had a feeding station for the bonobos while Jenny did not. The two approaches to research were incompatible. She had let it go. She was too busy with her own work to worry about his.

Jenny stopped running so abruptly that she tottered back and forth like a weighted doll. At first she thought she was looking at a twisted branch. Only now—now that her body had stopped without her consent—did she realize that it was a dark brown forest cobra perhaps a meter in length. It was coiled loosely along a branch holding its head high. She remembered what the toxicologist at the university had told her the first time she came to Congo: If you encounter one of these in the wild, don’t breathe. They read your carbon dioxide signature. If you’re bitten by one a kilometer from home don’t bother running: You will die. And you’ll be conscious the whole time while the venom gradually paralyzes you until your diaphragm stops working.

Jenny began a Tai Chi move, shifting her weight as slowly as she could. She moved back by centimeters. A minute passed. Two minutes. She had moved back only a foot or so when a shell landed. The cobra seemed to startle at the noise. It dropped to the ground and shot off into the undergrowth like a stroke of dark lightning flowing to the earth.

Jenny let out her breath and took off again. Damn him, she thought. Damn Donald Stone for not having a radio. They’d been in radio contact for the first few years. Although she rarely saw him, he was cordial enough during their occasional chats, always ending by saying that yes, he would most definitely come for tea just as soon as he could. He never came. Then he had stopped answering the radio calls.

Another shell whistled and landed and this time she heard the fragments rattling through the leaves and branches overhead. Now she ran flat out.

Half an hour later she emerged, panting, into the clearing. She froze. There was no sound but the buzzing of the flies. The evidence was all around: The revolutionaries had been there. The fuel tank on its metal stilts had been shot up, rank kerosene spilled on the ground. Stone’s things were strewn around. Books splayed open. Shakespeare. Blake. Milton. Mary Shelley. Melville. College math and science texts. Jenny thought that odd. Then she remembered the girl. Was there a girl? That was just a rumor. She’d never seen a child.

She approached the cabin cautiously. The door was broken on its hinges. She pushed it back, scraping the earth, and peered into the darkness. She could smell the residue of smokeless powder and the sharp reek of a latrine. She reached her flashlight, switched it on, and moved the beam around.

They’d shot him in the doorway and he’d fallen back inside. She did not have to touch him to know that he was dead. The blood from his shattered head had pooled around him. The few supplies they hadn’t taken were scattered and trod on by sandals, boots, bare feet. Small orange notebooks pulled down from shelves. His desk, a folding table, overturned. A boot kicked through its top.

Now, she thought, run. Go now, go to the river. There’s nothing you can do for him. But she stood staring at the dead British researcher, thinking: It could as easily have been me.

As she stepped over the debris she saw a curtain that divided the room. She pushed it aside. There on the floor she saw two more bodies, that of a teenage girl, naked, and a dead bonobo. The girl’s head was resting on the bonobo’s chest as if she had died trying to protect the animal. It struck Jenny that the rebels must have raped the girl before killing her. They always did.

“Oh, no.”

At the sound of Jenny’s voice the girl lifted her head and looked up. Jenny startled so badly that she screamed, clutching her chest and gulping air. The girl was small, with long dark hair standing out in a wild profusion of curls. Her smooth tan skin was slick with blood and covered with scratches. Her fine-featured face was smeared with mud. She was odd-looking, Jenny thought, exotic in some way that she couldn’t put her finger on. She looked out at Jenny with haunting dark green eyes.

At last Jenny said, “Are you hurt? Did they hurt you?”

The girl put her head back down on the chest of the dead bonobo and began wailing in high keening notes.

“Are you Dr. Stone’s daughter? Where’s your mother?”

The girl continued to cry, both hands covering her open mouth. Jenny crossed to her and knelt and put her arm around the girl.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. We have to go. It’s not safe.” Jenny stood and made another examination of the hut to see if the mother’s body was concealed somehow. But there was no one else there. She began gathering the orange notebooks and stuffing them into Stone’s backpack. It was all that was left of the man. “Get your clothes. Take what you need. Hurry. We won’t be coming back.” She found two passports among the debris and took them. “Come on. Please. I can’t leave you.”

The girl stood reluctantly and pulled on jeans and a shirt, still sobbing in ragged gulps, her chin trembling. Jenny picked up a framed photograph, its glass cracked, and put it in her own pack. Another shell whistled and burst nearby. The girl went back to the dead bonobo and fell on it, weeping.

Jenny took the girl’s limp hand. She pulled the girl away and helped her to her feet. “I’m sorry. We have to go to the river and find help.” She put her arm around the girl and drew her toward the door. “Can you speak?” The girl said nothing.

They went out of the hut and across the clearing. Then they were hurrying through the rain forest, which was interrupted here and there by great fields of flowers, bird of paradise, orchids, lobelias. They fled along worn paths beneath tunnels of red cedar, mahogany, and oak. The mist hung in the air like strips torn from bolts of cloth. As the fighting grew louder they broke into a run. Jenny could hear gunfire, explosions, and now screams. She caught occasional glimpses of a clearing sky, and as the sun drew high, the whole forest exhaled its steamy breath. When the noises of war grew faint once more they slowed to a walk. They walked all day, until the sun began to sink. They emerged into a grassy clearing, yellow in the late light. There they ate a cold meal of fruit and nuts. Though she could no longer hear the fighting Jenny dared not make a fire. They squatted on the ground, eating.

“I’m Jenny. Jenny Lowe. What’s your name?”

The girl just looked at her with those sad otherworldly eyes. Then Jenny felt her heart ache as tears ran down the girl’s cheeks. She put her arm around her and the girl leaned against her and wept.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to talk now. Let’s get some sleep.”

Jenny waited until the girl’s sobs subsided and her breathing became regular. Then she gently lay her head down in the grass and covered her with a shirt and mosquito netting from her pack. She sat back against a tree and watched the girl sleep. She’s probably in shock, Jenny thought. She can’t even talk. She wondered if the girl had grown up in the forest and what life was going to be like for her now.

She thought back to her longest visit with Donald Stone. It must have been fifteen years ago now. He had served her tea and tinned biscuits with marmalade that had been sent from England. He had a generator and a record player on which he played old vinyl albums of opera. They had gotten into a spirited discussion about which of the ancient ancestors of humans had had language. “Erectus,” he had said, “surely Homo erectus had language. I mean, look at the evidence of those elephant hunts in Spain. It might have been just sign language, but I doubt it. After all, the forest is alive with language. Listen to it now.” And he had paused dramatically, sweeping his arm all around the camp, which was walled in by the impenetrable gloom of the forest. Jenny had listened to all the jungle sounds echoing back and forth through the trees. “You see,” Stone said. “A positive flood of information, an eternal stream. It’s The Stream. The Stream, don’t you see? Everything speaks, even the trees.” She had liked him, liked his sharp mind and quick wit. But she was still mystified by how little he had wished to interact with her, the only other scientist for a thousand kilometers.

As Jenny lay musing in the darkness, she fell asleep. When she woke, the girl was gone.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Interviews & Essays

A conversation with Laurence Gonzales author of LUCY

Q: It has been over 25 years since you wrote your last novel. What made you decide to come back to fiction after decades as a successful non-fiction writer and journalist?
A: During all those years I continued to write fiction, but I was never satisfied with the results. I kept writing novels as a form of practice. I felt that if I just kept at it, I'd eventually succeed. Then Lucy got a hold on me and wouldn't turn me loose. She was one of those fictional people who simply torments you until you set her free. Even then I had to wrestle with the book for a very long time.

Q: The premise of Lucy is a daring one. How did you come up with the idea of a girl who is part ape?
A: I was studying petroglyphs in the high desert country of New Mexico around 1994. There is something deliciously spooky and mysterious about that country. As I was walking out there all alone, looking at those eerie pictures that someone had made maybe 1,000 years ago, I had this vision of a girl coming out of the rocks from an ancient time-this beautiful creature emerging into sunlight. It struck me that she was half human and half something else, something very ancient. I was transfixed by her. Something about her appearance made me think that she was a cross between a human and an ape. And I thought: This is really possible now. A world of possibilities opened up.

Once I had fixed on the idea, I couldn't put it out of my mind. I was working in Hollywood at the time, writing screenplays, so my first attempt to write Lucy was actually a screenplay. But it wasn't right. It took me the next 14 years to work it out. A few years ago I was talking with Cormac McCarthy and he asked me what I was writing next. I told him that I was writing a novel and he asked why I would want to do that, since there hadn't been a really good novel written in decades. I nearly quit working on Lucy at that point because it was so discouraging. But in the summer of 2007, my younger daughter, Amelia, was home from college and I told her the premise of the novel. When she heard it, she insisted that I press on. She peppered me with ideas and notes of encouragement until I had completed a first draft. Then I showed it to my wife, Debbie, and my older daughter, Elena, and they both exploded with excitement about Lucy. So I was moved to really go all the way with it.

Q: The character of Lucy is above all a real girl who we get to know very well. Was her voice and personality difficult for you to write?
A: I have always been more comfortable writing from the point of view of a woman. And I raised two daughters, so grasping a teenage girl's character and behavior seemed pretty natural to me. I also had a lot of help from my daughters and their friends. I knew from the start that in order for the novel to work, it had to be primarily a novel about people, not about ideas. In other words, Lucy had to steal the reader's heart. Once she stole my heart, I knew I could do it.

Q: You are an expert on survival and your non-fiction work Deep Survival has gone on to become a best-seller and be published in six languages. How did your work on survival influence Lucy?
A: I think one of the reasons it took me so long to write Lucy was that I didn't know enough when I began. But I spent years reading in psychology, behavioral science, neuroscience, the evolution of humans, and other areas that bear on what it means to be human. That research gave me the background I needed to understand who Lucy is, how she might behave, and so on. I also think that I matured as a writer and became more skilled at controlling the material.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on bonobos as opposed to another type of ape?
A: Bonobos are no more plausible than chimpanzees as potential candidates for breeding with humans. In fact, my original idea was for a cross between a chimpanzee and a human. But then around 2005, I was doing research for my book Everyday Survival and was looking into the origins of humans. I heard that the largest colony of bonobos in the world was just an hour from my home in Milwaukee. So I went there to meet them. I fell in love with them. They're sexy and clever, and they have complex language and a matriarchal social structure in which the guys do what the women tell them to do. As they got to know me better, they would come to the wire at the back of the enclosure and put their fingers through the fence, imploring me to touch them. Their hands are beautiful and so very human. There seemed no way to write Lucy without them.

Like Lucy herself, these bonobos are caught between two worlds. They can't go back to Congo, even if we allowed it. They're not fit for living in the wild and even if they survived, they'd be killed by bush meat hunters there or by the civil war. And yet it is so sad that they are kept in a cage. I am working to make it possible for people who read Lucy to donate money to improve their living quarters.

Q: A particularly interesting concept in the novel is what Lucy calls "The Stream"-the way that animals in the jungle communicate with each other through non-verbal signs. Is this a real phenomenon? Do you think it's an ability that humans have lost?
A: I did a lot of research on what's known as non-verbal communication. It's real. Animals communicate through a wide variety of signals from body language and facial expression to pheromones and smell. Humans are no exception. They just tend to ignore those channels, both because we have spoken words and because we don't need to pay attention in modern society. We have not lost The Stream. It's always there. If we learn to pay attention, it will come back to us when we need it.

Q: In Lucy you tackle many serious moral and ethical issues, but at the center of it all is the question of what it means to be human. Did writing Lucy's story help you see this question in a different light?
A: Just as science has no fixed definition of what it means to be male or female, it also has no clear way to define what it means to be human, unless we apply a strict genetic definition. And even then it gets murky. Using genetics, you could argue that someone with any genetic mutation is not human, and I don't think we're ready to do that. Many scientists argue, for example, that chimpanzees and bonobos should be classified as another variety of our species, Homo sapiens, or that humans should be considered another form of chimpanzee.

My face-to-face contact with bonobos, along with my research into our ancestors-the apes and early humans-made me see that we are essentially apes with all of our ape-like behaviors still intact. The first time I went to meet the bonobos in the Milwaukee Zoo, I walked up to the very thick glass behind which they lived. I looked in on a dozen or so of those individuals who were engaged in various activities-grooming and talking and climbing around. As I stood there, one of them came flying at me from somewhere high above on the end of a long rope and kicked me in the face with all his weight and momentum. If it had not been for the glass, he'd have snapped my neck and killed me. That was such a wonderfully human thing to do-to kill the stranger, as so many of us are still doing. A moment later, he was tenderly kissing another bonobo. Writing Lucy definitely shaped the way I view humans. We are still so close to our roots.

Q: Has anyone ever really attempted to create a hybrid human?
A: The history of attempts to breed humans with apes is spotty, but it has definitely been attempted. The earliest effort that I know of was undertaken by a Russian biologist named Il'ya Ivanovich Ivanov. In 1926 he was sent to Africa by the Russian Academy of Sciences to inseminate female chimpanzees with human sperm. The effort was supported by the Institut Pasteur in Paris. Ivanov did inseminate several chimpanzees, though without success. I don't know of any published account of breeding a human with an ape successfully, but it would not surprise me if it had been done in some remote place beyond the normal controls. I don't think it's likely that someone would publish a paper about such an experiment if it had been successful.

Q: Do you think that science is moving too fast or too blindly in areas of biotechnology and genetics? A line from Jurassic Park comes to mind: "your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."
A: No, I think that it's good to move forward in those areas. In any event, there's no stopping us. Human history shows that if we know something is possible, we'll do it. And if most people think it's impossible, then someone will surprise us all and do it anyway. The question isn't whether or not we'll have fantastic abilities in genetics and biotechnology. We already have some of them. The question is how we'll use those abilities. If creating a human-ape hybrid is not possible today, it will be possible tomorrow. And we always do whatever is possible just as quickly as we can arrange it. All good sense told us not to build an atom bomb. But we did it because we could. So I think now is as good a time as any to think about these issues.

Q: Some of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the novel come from the reactions of certain groups to Lucy once the public learns about her story. Were you drawing parallels to any particular instances of intolerance that we face in society today?
A: The story I told about the bonobo who wanted to kill me illustrates the roots of our intolerance of those who are not like us. It is in our nature to protect our own group and reject other groups. The bulk of the novel was written during the administration of George W. Bush, during which violent intolerance was elevated to the level of a national ideal. Add to that the staggering ignorance, religious fanaticism, and power-mad dishonesty of that group of people, and you get a pretty good idea of what I was aiming for in the novel. I actually went into prisons and met some of the white power fanatics there. You don't have to look very far to find the kind of people I write about in Lucy.

Q: Do you expect any backlash from groups (similar to those in your book) who consider the theory that humans evolved from apes to be untrue and would find an experiment like the one in Lucy to be an abomination?
A: Yes, I expect there to be controversy about Lucy. The book puts evolution front and center as a fact about which there is no debate. In addition, there is a powerful conflict between who Lucy is and how she got here. Lucy's engaging personality makes you like her. But there is a disturbing dissonance when you realize what was done to bring her to life. That tension has to be upsetting. You don't have to be a zealot to think that breeding a human with an ape is beyond the pale. But what do you then do with this marvelous person called Lucy? I think there will be some pretty heated rhetoric. And that's good, because we should debate this before it becomes a reality.

Q: Is there an underlying message that you hope readers will take away from reading Lucy?
A: Lucy does indeed raise many ethical, moral, and philosophical issues that are useful to think about and debate. One important issue we haven't touched on yet is the way people think about other animals. Recent scientific study shows us that many animals are extremely intelligent and even self-aware. Some birds, for example, have consciousness that is not unlike our own. Whales and dolphins are very likely just as smart as we are. I hope that people come away from reading Lucy with a greater respect for animals of all sorts and perhaps a greater reluctance to destroy them simply because they don't understand them. I also think it's important to point out that I wrote most of this novel between the ages of 59 and 61. Part of what kept me going was that I had had the privilege of knowing Norman Maclean, the author of A River Runs Through It, who didn't start writing until he was in his seventies. I hope that this book serves as an inspiration to others. It's never too late, so never give up.

But at its heart, Lucy is a coming-of-age novel about a wonderful young girl discovering herself and the world in which she finds herself. Lucy says it herself: All teenagers have feelings like hers. The message is: Lucy is a novel. It's a story, and as such, it's meant to make people turn the pages and laugh and cry. If they happen to have deep thoughts along the way, that's good, too. But if all Lucy does is to make you stay up late reading, then that's enough for me.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Lucy opens in the war-torn jungles of Congo (pp. 7-13). In what ways do the setting and the chaotic events lay the groundwork for the novel's themes? What aspects of Lucy’s demeanor reflect an ordinary, expected reaction to the tragedy that has occurred and which ones strike you as unusual? Does Jenny’s training as an anthropologist color her initial responses to Lucy?

2. How do the descriptions of Lucy’s first days in Chicago capture the difficulties of adjusting to a new environment (pp. 20-23)? What details help to create the sense of displacement and alienation Lucy feels? What insights do her dreams and memories offer into the emotions she is experiencing?

3. Discuss Lucy’s reactions to the shopping mall (p. 29) and the grocery store (p. 34). What message do they convey about American culture? To what extent does Lucy express basic impulses most of us have been taught to suppress?

4. Gonzales cites several actual attempts to create a human-ape hybrid (pp. 46-47). What impact does learning about these efforts, as well as Dr. Stone’s detailed reports on his methods, have on your readiness to accept Lucy’s existence?

5. Do you agree with Jenny that “No one would do that today, because of all the ethical issues involved. Besides, no one would have a scientific reason to do it. (p. 47)? How has the exposure of highly questionable experiments performed in the recent past influenced the ethical standards in science? What reasons might a scientist give for pursuing an “experiment” like Lucy today?

6. Discuss Dr. Stone’s motivation for creating Lucy. Does his desire to protect the bonobo from extinction distort his ability to recognize the implications of his project? Does his assertion that “humankind . . . is rapidly destroying itself. Something must change in human nature” and that “Lucy, in short, is the best argument in my defense” (p. 50) reflect scientific hubris, idealistic naïveté, or a credible, if extreme, reaction to real threats facing the world today?

7. What does Lucy’s explanation and acceptance of her father’s mission (p. 53) reveal about the disparity between his ambitions as a scientist and his role as a parent? Why did he fail to see the ramifications of his plans?

8. “Jenny understood that her own inability to see what Lucy was, despite the clues, would work in their favor . . . . When people encountered Lucy, so bright, so pretty, and in some ways such a normal teenager, the truth would be the furthest thing from their minds” (p. 62). What do Jenny’s assumptions demonstrate about how people are judged? Do the reactions of Harry (p. 39) and Jenny’s mother (pp. 85-86) confirm or contradict her assumptions?

9. Lucy’s ability to tune into “The Stream”—the nonverbal communication of animals in the natural world—is one of her most intriguing qualities. What particular passages best illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of her connection to nature? Lucy discovers that her classmates are “at home in The Stream, while the adults seem to have lost it” (p. 67). Does this perception ring true to you? Does it offer a fresh point of view on familiar social conduct and interactions?

10. Jenny “could tell that Dr. Mayer was a mischief maker of the worst sort” (p. 73). Given Lucy’s outburst of violence, are the school psychologist’s concerns and questions inappropriate?

11. In the aftermath of their meeting, “the accumulation of clues had Jenny wondering if people were having the same unconscious moment of recognition that she had when she first encountered Lucy . . . . Everything from her smell to her strength to her exotic and charming looks poured out the message that she was not of the same species” (p. 84). Is Jenny’s theory that people retain an animal-like instinct for recognizing their own species convincing?

12. When she sees videos of teenage girls on YouTube, Lucy is struck by the similarities between their behavior and the behavior of bonobos in the jungle (pp. 100-101). If you have read books or seen television programs offering evidence that elements of human nature and behavior can be traced to our biological heritage, discuss how Gonzales weaves the findings (or theories) of primatologists and other scientists into the narrative.

13. Once the truth about Lucy is made public, the challenge of protecting her takes on new urgency. Discuss how the news of her existence brings out both the best and the worst in human nature. How would you characterize the reactions of Dr. Syropolous (p. 133), Amanda (pp. 139-143), and Harry (p. 144)? What does the behavior of others—from the television interviewer (p. 157) to the airport security guard (pp. 158-159) to the Randalls (pp. 163-164), to Charlie Revere (p. 179)—demonstrate about people’s willingness to accept all that Lucy represents?

14. In light of the forces aligned against her, is Lucy’s abduction and incarceration inevitable? What resources does Lucy draw upon to survive the humiliations and cruelty she is subject to? What role does her education and intelligence play? In what ways do her natural instincts, powers of intuition, and sheer physical strength help her plan and execute her escape?

15. The memorandum from the Alamogordo Primate Facility to the U.S. Navy Medical Corps (pp. 181-183); the article by an evolutionary biologist at Stanford (pp. 185-186); Lucy’s testimony in Congress and the response by Senator Rhodes (pp. 187-191) present wide-ranging and contradictory opinions about how Lucy should be treated. Which arguments are the most compelling and why?

16. In many ways, the controversy surrounding Lucy encapsulates the disputes and enmities that trouble our society today. How does it relate to such matters as the debates about biological and genetic research; the conflict between evolutionists and “creationists”; the treatment of outsiders or people deemed “different” in some way; and the impetus behind the animal rights and environmentalist movements. What observations in the novel can be read as critical commentary on recent American political and military policies?

17. In an interview, Gonzales said “(A)t its heart, Lucy is a coming-of-age story about a wonderful young girl discovering herself and the world in which she finds herself” ( How does Gonzales brings to life the mixture of insecurity, confusion, defiance, and the search for self-definition of adolescence? Do Lucy’s recollections of her childhood, her losses, and the things she gains provide insights into the changes and transformations that are part of a universal experience (pp. 205-207)?

18. Stories about the creation of hybrid or artificial humans and life forms are part of our literary and cinematic history. How does Lucy fit into this tradition? Why do you think Gonzales presents Lucy as a nearly perfect combination of human and bonobo traits?

19. What does Lucy suggest about the distinctions we make between species? What light does it cast on the limitations of using biology (DNA structure) to define the borders between humans and other animals?

20. Scientists have made remarkable advances in genetic research (for instance, uncovering the genes responsible for some illnesses), and have achieved success in cross-breeding various animals. Do the potential benefits of research into human genetics outweigh the opposition expressed by many different groups? What historic scientific discoveries flouted accepted wisdom, religious teachings, or ethical standards, yet are now universally accepted? (For example, up until the late nineteenth century, surgeons washing their hands). Are there moral or ethical limits to what scientists should pursue? Did reading Lucy change your attitude about current trends in science?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit:

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 89 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 89 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Does Creating a New Species Damn Us?

    Jenny is a scientist working in a remote part of Africa. She goes to visit a collegue who experimented with bonobo apes. She finds that he was murdered by raiders and that there is a young girl still alive under one of the dead bonobos. The girl says that her name is Lucy and that she is the daughter of the murdered scientist and her mother is also dead.

    Jenny doesn't want to leave the girl alone so she takes her back to her camp and learns that Lucy has a British passport so she must have some relatives in England. Jenny tries to locate them to no avail so she decides to take Lucy back to the states with her.

    Jenny and Lucy immediately bond and Jenny decides that she want to formally adopt Lucy. Lucy exhibits a lot of strange behaviors including liking to be naked and sleeping in trees. Also, Lucy has superior strength to anyone her age and seems to have advanced senses (hearing, smell). Jenny enrolls Lucy in the local high school and Lucy has a tough time adjusting. Jenny starts to read the scientist's notebooks for some clues to Lucy's behavior. She discovers that Lucy may not be fully human.

    This book is full of current political themes such as misuse of the Patriot Act by unscrupulous government officials, torture, and other devices used to study prisoners. Also, when the government learns about Lucy the controversy that errupts is like the themes of stem cell research, gay marraige, etc. Parts of the book reminded Cornelius and Zira in the movie Escape From the Planet of the Apes and the controversy over them having a baby that could talk.

    Overall the book is a good thought provoking read. I found it difficult to rate it with five stars because of the way Jenny is able to bring Lucy to the US and adopt her. Also, there are things that happen later on in the book that had me shaking my head at how ridiculous they were.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    thought provoking

    With the death of her associate in the Congo, primate anthropologist Jenny Lowe rescues her crony's daughter Lucy as the civil war continues to go unabated and ugly. Jenny and Lucy go to the anthropologist's home in Chicago where the girl acts weird, but not shocking as she lived in the jungle.

    Jenny begins to reconsider the child's skills displaying abnormal strength and superhuman agility. However, it is Lucy's seemingly instinctive preference to stay in trees rather than the ground that leads Jenny to realize that her tweener is a hybrid mix of half human and half pygmy chimpanzee. DNA testing confirms what the two females sort of knew. The kid insists she is a humanzee who reads the classics and can speak in several tongues, but has incredible senses well beyond the human range. Scientists make a bid to study her and HSD declares she doesn't have any rights because she is not human and could be a terrorist

    This deep look at what is human will have readers pondering the definition while wondering with a nod to Frankenstein although Lucy is charming how far science should go. The story line is fast-paced while introducing readers to a myriad of complex social, scientific and religious problematic convergences. Although the ending feels overly neat after how complicated the questions of Lucy's human rights as a hybrid, fans will relish this thought provoking powerhouse.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2013

    a good read

    A good read. Unusual story line with an unexpected ending.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 20, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Fast moving story line. Emotional and thought provoking.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2010

    Loved it

    Couldn't put it down from the first page,would make a great movie!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2010

    Couldn't put it down

    I thought this sounded like a good vacation read and once I started I couldn't put it down. I found myself getting totally wrapped up in the story and truly feeling for Lucy and Jenny and the ordeal they must face. I would love another book from the author following up on the aftermath that is only touched on briefly at the end of this book. I also think it would be neat to hear more from the perspective of Lucy's father and her early years.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    eminently readable

    I loved this book and read it in just a few days. My heart bled for poor Lucy and her horrible experiences in the human world. It's very hard to put down and I was right into it from the very first pages.


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2010

    I couldn't put this book down!

    What an amazing read! You will love the characters, the story, and especially how it relates to how you personally view humanity. Bravo!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2013


    No. The books are too sexual. My parents could see it. Do you think you could ask her to change it to everyday all results?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2011


    The storyline was lame, the writing was extremely poor, the reader had no empathy for the characters because they were so incredibly 'dumb'. Would love to know what book the 5 star reviewers read because it certainly couldn't have been the same book I read. I gave it to 2 friends who said they got through half and sent it back to me because of the boredom factor. I had to literally push myself to read to the end because I just didn't care about any of the characters.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great Ape!

    Lucy is a pretty wild ride. Gonzales takes an already pretty scary premise, gene-splicing and cloning, and takes it up notch, making us question the nature of humanity. He also introduces the debate of what defines a human: behaviour or DNA?

    ?Although sometimes a bit heavy handed in the lecturing-about-civil-rights department, Lucy really, at its heart, is the poignant tale of a teenage girl (although freakishly brilliant and half ape). Lucy struggles with loss, love, fitting in, fame, treachery and finding herself just like Kardashian does on a daily basis.

    Gonzales has definitely done his research and his descriptions of jungle life and Bonobo mannerisms are thrilling. At the end of the day, Lucy is a thoughtful, moving story that made me consider what it means to be a responsible citizen of the world.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 17, 2011

    Soooooo Good

    Story about a scientist working in the Congo during a revolution who flees to a neighoring scientists camp. This scientist has been secretly inseminating bonobos (apes) in an attempt to create a bonobo-human hybrid. When he is killed the other scientist escapes with his daughter and finds out she IS the hybrid!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great read - highly recommend for Bookclub Reading

    Lucy is charming, inquisitive, engaging and a very different young girl but you have to look past what you see to understand the wonder of this girl and how she got "here". From the start, the book captures your heart with the Congo and it's beauty then pulls your heart strings with the death of a great scientist, leaving behind his beautiful daughter who must flee her only known home and those she so loved.

    The heroine, Jenny Lowe, makes this story so very real and touching as she saves Lucy, many times over and tackles traditional thinking as the story unfolds...Lucy is the result of an experiment - part human, part ape. The controversy of those who meet her, think they know what is right and those who seek to eliminate her will give pause as you find this a page turner that you don't want to put down.

    Already sharing this with so many and enjoying the discussions at Bookclubs.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    This book was an absolutely fantastic read. I initially heard the book review on NPR (of course) and immediately went out to pick up my copy.

    Lucy is incredibly well written, the author draws you into the story and builds a bond with the family of characters in the book. The subject matter can be described as "science fiction" but the author makes it believable.

    At the finish of this story it left me hungry for more, wanting to know where and what Lucy's family was moving onto next.

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  • Posted October 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Surprisingly deep and thought-provoking.

    An absolute page turner! It begs the question of what the world really would do with such a person in their midst, if they decide that she is a person at all! While some may not like that the very complex legal issues involved were glossed over, it was not vital to the plot and I didn't find it a bad thing. I laughed, cried, and prayed that everything would turn out ok for Lucy and her family. This novel was more than a good story, it was a commentary on human behavior.

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  • Posted August 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A very good read, thought provoking

    I heard an interview on NPR with the author about this book and immediately went out and bought the ebook. I was glad I did. I was hooked from the first few pages, and I was sad when the story ended. I could certainly see a sequel here and maybe even a film.

    I thought the author devised a very believable plot and the science involved seemed very plausible. From a scientific standpoint I believe mankind is very close to being able to develop hybrid genetic material. What scares me is the possibility that human genetic material may be manipulated someday and we might indeed discover a "Lucy" in our midst. I fear as a society we would behavior no less despicable than many people did in the story.

    I was drawn to Lucy in so many ways and on many different levels. I couldn't quite understand why the author developed the relationship between Lucy and Amanda the way he did but that made the last few chapters emotionally poignant and incredibly touching. I was shocked and hurt by what happened in the end but I was glad that there was a rainbow in the end for Lucy.

    I highly recommend the book. The scenario the author paints seems so plausible its scary. It will make you wonder what such an event could mean to mankind, to religion, to the very meaning of the word humanity.

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  • Posted August 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Lynn Crow for

    When local warfare drives Jenny from her research post in the jungle and causes the death of a fellow scientist, she doesn't think twice about bringing his teenaged daughter with her to safety. But when they return to civilization, Jenny can't help feeling there's something odd about Lucy.

    Her reactions to the sights and sounds of city life, and her amazing strength, seem to stem from more than just jungle life. As she reads Lucy's father's journals, she discovers a shocking secret. Lucy was born to an ape her father conducted breeding experiments with. She is only half human.

    Though Jenny is willing to accept Lucy as the intelligent, compassionate girl she is, others are not so open-minded. As the secret comes out, she, Lucy, and their friends must fight the media, the government, and the military for Lucy's right to life and to freedom.

    LUCY starts with a fascinating premise - what would happen to a girl who wasn't entirely human? Lucy's adjustments to city life and school ring true and her struggle to protect herself and those she loves will have readers turning pages as fast as they can. The ethical issues raised are all too pertinent in today's world of genetic experimentation. Though it ends somewhat abruptly, the story is well worth the ride.

    Recommended for readers who enjoy thinking about deeper issues even as they're gripped by a thriller.

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  • Posted July 30, 2010

    Lucy ....

    I read this in a few days and would've had it done sooner if I hadn't been so busy. The characters intertwined so nicely and I really like the writing style. My heart broke for this girl's ordeal. This was a wonderful book - I highly recommend this book to all of you!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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