Eleven-year-old Jaylynn O’Reilly has traveled all the way from Seattle, WA to Sumatra, Indonesia. Her parents both got new jobs – her mom got a “dream job” in Washington, DC while her dad took a job with an oil company in Sumatra. And bam! Just like that her family is torn apart. She’s now with her dad, and feels abandoned, not just by her mom, but by her dad too, who never seems to pick up on how she’s feeling. And now she’s 8,000 miles from her friends, wandering around a market in a foreign country where she doesn’t understand the language.
As Jaylynn walks along, a little baby monkey catches her eye (she later learns that it’s actually an orangutan). She pulls her dad along to check out the baby, but he pulls back, telling her that it’s a wild animal and could be dangerous. The orangutan is chained to a wall and looks miserable. When their eyes meet, Jaylynn feels an instant connection. She knows right away that the adorable little baby needs her. How can she help?
Jaylynn’s dad tells her to stay away, but soon she has snuck back through the crowd to find the orangutan. She quickly finds the baby and they connect again. Jaylynn names her new friend “Little O” and knows she must save the miserable baby. But then total terror erupts in the form of a big, threatening man who comes running toward Jaylynn. He screams at her and tries to grab her but Jaylynn manages to escape his clutches. She names him “Maniac Man” and he’s the owner of Little O, or more accurately, he’s the one who stole the orangutan from its home in the rainforest and is selling the baby to the pet market to make a quick profit. Jaylynn is completely distraught at the thought of Little O’s plight. She soon engages the help of her only friend in Sumatra, Zaqi, and his cousin Bima. Initially they hope to buy Little O and return him to the rainforest, but as Jaylynn researches the pet orangutan trade, and learns what the humans do to the mother’s, she looks for other options. Meanwhile, Bima thinks it might be better to just steal Little O from Maniac Man, but Zaqi insists he will not be involved in theft. Their friendship is slowly pulled apart as they consider different options, all the while trying to do what’s best for Little O.
Joyce Major has written a much-needed story for the younger generation on animal conservation. The story is told by Jaylynn, and reads as if she’s telling her best friend what is happening as she tries to rescue Little O. The dialog is believable and young readers will be drawn to the plight of all orangutans through Jaylynn and her friends. Some bad decisions are made, all in an effort to save Little O (sneaking out at night, stealing money from her dad’s wallet, forging his signature on a letter), that some readers may question, especially since Jaylynn is never made to answer those decisions. But the important lesson is what can be done to help the plight of endangered orangutans, and the author has done an excellent job of informing her readers on various options. At the back of the book are several pages of resources so readers can learn what they can do to help save orangutans.
Quill says: An excellent book to engage “tween” readers and get them involved in their own orangutan rescue gangs.