74 pages 2 hours read

Eliot Schrefer


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide



Eliot Schrefer’s coming-of-age novel Endangered was published by Scholastic in 2012 and is the first book in The Ape Quartet. Set the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the story is written for a young adult audience and is a 2012 National Book Award finalist in Young People’s Literature. The novel follows Sophie Biyoya-Ciardulli’s journey as she navigates the perils of war-torn Congo in search of her mother, protecting a young, orphaned bonobo throughout her journey. As the novel progresses, Schrefer explores themes such as dedication, self-sacrifice, and protection for endangered species.

This guide uses the 2014 Scholastic paperback edition.

Plot Summary

At the opening of the story, 14-year-old Sophie Biyoya-Ciardulli, who normally lives with her father in Miami, Florida, has come to visit her mother, Florence, in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the first chapter, a local driver named Clément is driving Sophie through Kinshasa to Florence’s bonobo sanctuary. (Bonobos are small apes, also commonly known as “pygmy chimpanzees.”) On the way to the sanctuary, Sophie buys a young but frail bonobo from an animal trafficker, believing that she is doing what her mother would want by taking the opportunity to save an animal. When Florence sees what Sophie has done, she tells her daughter that the ape is now her responsibility to care for and nurse back to health. Over the next two months, Sophie helps the bonobo, Otto, regain his health. The two spend all their time together and form a strong bond. One day, the same trafficker arrives at the sanctuary, offering twin baby bonobos for Sophie to buy. Florence chases him away and tells her daughter that buying Otto has re-established a demand for infant bonobos. The next day, Sophie sees empty cages on the sanctuary’s front lawn and learns that her mother will go to a bonobo preserve to release four adults, leaving Sophie behind.

Days after Florence leaves with the release team, Sophie and the sanctuary staff listen to the radio and hear that rebel soldiers have killed Congo’s president and that rebels are flooding into Kinshasa. A staff member named Patrice reassures Sophie that her mother will be safe, yet the teen knows that she herself is the one in danger. Hours later, Patrice discovers that the United Nations (UN) will airlift American citizens from Kinshasa’s airport. A UN van arrives at the sanctuary to pick up Sophie, but she is reluctant to part with Otto, who does not want to be separated from her. She gets in the van and rides away, but Otto breaks free from Patrice and runs after her. Seeing this, Sophie jumps out of the van and returns to the sanctuary staff. The officer from the van tells her that she must go with him, so she runs into the adult bonobo enclosure to hide.

After a short time in the enclosure, Sophie witnesses rebel soldiers attack the sanctuary and kill most of the sanctuary staff. She hides in the enclosure, knowing that the rebels will kill her if they find her. While hiding, she meets several adult bonobos, including Anastasia (the matriarch), Mushie, Ikwa, and Banalia. Sophie also realizes that the duffle bag she dropped outside the enclosure fence contains food, so she sneaks out to retrieve it, careful not to alert any rebel soldiers of her presence. On her way back to the enclosure, she hears a young bonobo call from outside the nursery. Sophie follows the sound and finds Songololo, Anastasia’s baby, next to a dead nursery worker. Sophie takes Songololo into the enclosure and disappears into the jungle. When Sophie stands up to Anastasia to defend and protect Otto, she earns a place in the bonobo hierarchy. The group allows her to forage with them, and Mushie makes sleeping platforms each night so that Sophie can sleep in the trees with the rest of the apes. After two weeks in the enclosure, Sophie discovers that the fence’s electricity is down, and she realizes that she must leave in order to avoid capture by the rebels.

Sophie, Otto, and Songololo sneak out of the enclosure, careful not to wake the adult bonobos. They make it to the front of the sanctuary before the teen realizes some of the other bonobos have followed her. A soldier shoots and kills Banalia, so Sophie and the rest of the bonobos run into the jungle. She eventually finds an abandoned village and slips away with just Otto, leaving the other bonobos behind. Sophie continues toward Kinshasa and sees a line of refugees heading to the airport. A woman with three daughters takes Sophie to a clearing where helicopters transport supplies in and out of Congo. Sophie speaks to a man who says he can get her out of the country and back to America, but she must leave Otto behind. Sophie declines this offer, takes all the food supplies in the man’s office, and sets out for Mbandaka, a city fairly close to the release site to which her mother has gone.

When Sophie arrives in Mbandaka, she finds a hunting trail that will take her around the dangerous city and close to Ikwa, the village closest to the release site, but when hunters snare Otto, Sophie follows them into the heart of the city. She retrieves Otto from a rebel soldier who is about her age and crosses the river north of Mbandaka. The next day, Sophie stumbles into Ikwa, overcome with the effects of dehydration. A young boy takes her to Florence, who is in the village recovering from malaria. Mother and daughter spend a month in Ikwa before it is safe enough for them to return to Kinshasa, where Sophie’s father awaits them. They return to the bonobo sanctuary and work to get it running again. Sophie decides to stay with her mother in Kinshasa, though she eventually returns to America to attend college years later. When she graduates, she flies back to Congo to work with a non-profit organization. When Sophie arrives in Congo once again, she returns to the release site with Florence to release Mushie, Songololo, and Mushie’s baby, Congo, into the wild. She also reunites with Otto, who is now an adult with a family of his own.