I remember picking up “Gorilla Dawn” from the Scholastic Book Fair in our school just over two years ago. I was drawn to the cover image of the baby gorilla clutching the girl with vibrant eyes and a scar across her face. I just loved the way the girl was holding the baby gorilla. At age 8, however, I found the words difficult to understand and the plot confusing. So, I put the book back on my bookshelf, where it lay untouched for two years. Tired of reading the same books over again during COVID-19 pandemic, I gave “Gorilla Dawn” another chance because the cover image, beautiful illustrations, and the excerpt intrigued me. I am so glad I did! Only a few books have touched me the way this book has. It is one the most heartwarming, inspiring, thought-provoking, and informative books I have ever read!
Deep inside the Congo forests, a baby gorilla has been taken away from his family to the The Black Mamba rebel camp where he meets Imara, a girl who was stolen from her family too. The baby gorilla and Imara share an inner pain, love, and hope. Imara doesn’t know how to care for the baby gorilla, so she turns to a boy named Bobo, who was also taken from his family. When Imara and Bobo learned that the baby gorilla was going to be sold to a mysterious white woman, they are determined to save it.
The main character, Imara, has convinced the rebel leader that she is a “spirit child” who has magical powers that will protect the rebel group. Imara feels like she has a demon inside of her making her do things. The demon says agonizing words to her like “You are mine Imara” or “You are the devil’s child,” but when she holds the baby gorilla, the demon seems to go away. I could feel Imara’s suffering, loneliness, and fear through these inner conversations with her subconscious mind.
Bobo, the other character in the book, is a curious and determined boy. Bobo was captured and taken to a rebel camp where he met Imara and the baby gorilla who was later named Kitwana after Imara’s brother. Together they fought back the rebels and saved Kitwana.
Lastly, Kitwana is a playful gorilla who is always ready for fun. Once when Kitwana fell down from the trees and the rebels captured him. He met Imara in the rebel camp, who held him in his arms just like his mother did. Kitwana trusted Imara more than anyone else.
Instead of traditional chapters, the book is organized around the story and perspective of each of these characters (Imara, Kitwana, and Bobo). I think this is a great method to understand the characters and portray their feelings in deep, detailed, and sensitive way.
The story takes place in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a place not many have visited or know about. Congo had a violent and horrifying civil war. Rebels, called the M23, fought against the government. Children were stolen from their families and forced to fight with the rebels and work in mines. Gill Lewis tells us the truth about the war, violence, and destruction of the gorilla habitats through mining and poaching just as it is. The rare metals that we use in our electronic devices, like coltan and cobalt come from Congo. The story showed me how the environment, poverty, and greed are related to each other and how we are connected to the people and animals of Congo even though we might not see them or hear about them.
Another illuminating and unique aspect of the book is how it explains human behavior through the eyes of an animal. In the book, Kitwana reflects on the rebels, who he calls “killer apes.” “.....Angry, scared, and wary. They had no mothers to protect them or reprimand them. They didn’t let each other close. Each one had a boundary that another couldn’t cross. The only thing that bound them together was their fear.” Animals can understand us, maybe better than we do ourselves. They can feel the same feelings. They can love as we do.
This book can inspire children and adults to work to conserve our environment and stop its mindless destruction. It brings awareness of about the lives of people who are far away and how we are all connected. It is a book about hope, bravery, and trust and it will touch your heart. It shows the true meaning of love. I would recommend it for anyone 10 years and older and I am looking forward to reading more Gill Lewis books.
Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Susan Meyer. Simon and Schuster, 2018. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!