Glee Granger is a mom, albeit an adoptive one. She is the mother to Sema, a gorilla whom she rescued from its birth mother when the new mom didn't begin feeding Sema immediately. Glee, a zookeeper, feared Sema's mother might eat her --- something gorillas have been known to do.
Thus began Glee's journey into full-time motherhood. Living off an inheritance from her parents' estate, this single woman has devoted all her time, energy, and very person into Sema's growth and development. Believing Sema to be special --- for she uses a computer, signs to communicate, watches videos, and expresses emotions, playfulness and sadness (as well as the rest of humanity's wide range of "attitude") --- Glee is determined to keep "her girl" out of the clutches of a zoo environment.
Sadly, after eight years of rearing and loving Sema on her private land, the director of the Thousand Oaks Zoo sees Sema as a moneymaker and demands her return. Even though Glee is crushed by this development, her lawyer-brother helps to negotiate better terms for both Sema and Glee. Surprisingly, Glee is offered a position at the zoo and this allows her at least daily minimal contact with Sema. For Glee this job comes with an old "boyfriend," Brad Fielding, who's now her boss. Glee doubts whether or not she or he will be able to mend their fences, professional or otherwise. Still, Glee agrees to transport Sema to the zoo's facilities to begin her orientation with the other gorillas.
As Sema is quarantined for a short period of time, Glee is shocked to discover how excited Sema is to be acquainted with her fellow gorillas, signing these requests daily. As the days pass, Glee also is confounded by her boss's conciliatory behavior. Hmmm...Glee suddenly discovering much of her orderly world is not what she anticipated.
After a tragic water accident that may have killed Sema, Glee is even more disturbed by Sema's "signing." Sema begins telling Glee of a "shiny man" who was with her in the dark water, who loves her...and loves Glee. Believing Sema to have suffered brain damage, Glee seeks out Brad and together they sneak Sema from the zoo for an MRI scan. When the results show no brain damage, Glee's grandmother ponders the possibility that God may be speaking to Sema. Glee, dismissing the notion offhandedly, continues to fret for Sema's mental health.
Between the overzealous zoo director's publicity ploys and Glee's ongoing concern for Sema, tensions escalate to a point where Glee must face the possibility of not having all the answers. She revisits her faith briefly, and yet niggling thoughts continue to point to the possibility of Sema's having a "spiritual" understanding beyond what Glee does. Another tragedy ensues, Glee and Sema converse, and Glee makes peace with her unspoken fears and doubts about God, his goodness, and the evil in the world.
Author Angela Hunt weaves an incredibly fascinating story around the habits and behavior of gorillas. The information alone on these remarkable primates is worth the read. Hunt, as always, shines brightly as she depicts her characters' flaws, fears and foibles with characteristic honesty. Readers will begin asking their own questions about the extent of animals' understanding and perceptions after journeying alongside this enthusiastic zookeeper named Glee.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on May 3, 2005