Primates by Jim Ottaviani Book Review

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani
Illustrations by Maris Wicks
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: June 11, 2013

A non-fiction graphic novel that depicts the life of three primatologists: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. Together they changed the way we think of primates and perhaps ourselves as well.

I have always found the stories of female scientists fascinating, especially Jane Goodall as this was a woman who, without knowing anything about primates, made it her life's work. These other women, although I am aware of who they are and what they did, were a little less on my radar. With graphic novels covering a wide range of topics, I love the idea of a non-fiction scientific subject. It is a complete shame that the implementation of this idea was not up to par.

Throughout the book I grew increasingly confused by the constant shifts in narration and the changing of characters with little explanation. Who is talking now? Why? Who are they talking about? More concerning and something that wasn't addressed by any of the women in the book was the rampant sexism that gave them their careers. Louis Leakey was apparently well-known for choosing women to work with primates because he felt that they could do things that men can't. This wasn't because he really thought that women were necessarily better at their jobs, but more because working with primates apparently requires a "woman's touch". At no point do any of the "characters" seem at all concerned, frustrated, or perturbed by this. Perhaps he was right? Or perhaps the women that coming into his path were just right for the job? That may require a bit more research than what was in the pages of this book.

I desperately want to know if these women actually agree that women are better in the field or if they simply were doing their job and simply ignored Leakey's comments.

There were a number of unanswered questions, my biggest one being, what did Galdikas sit on that caused a health problem and what was the exact nature of the health scare? Husbands and children appeared out of nowhere. Jane Goodall is running around nude for some reason. The emphasis seems to be on the beginning of their careers and the struggle to get into the field and not so much the discoveries that were made, the significance of their work, and why they were doing it. For all three, it felt like the author was implying that these women thought monkeys (or other primates) were cool and just wanted to work with them, even if they didn't have any formal training. Their life's work are reduced to one discovery and that's it. 

Then I reached the part at the end where the author says, "Some of what you just read is fiction." No. Stop right there! It is not okay to write a non-fiction book about real people, some of which are still alive, and then just make stuff up for the sake of a good story. This is what bad biographers used to do in the 60's, making fiction and non-fiction often indistinguishable. It is not okay now. Not in the information age where facts, interviews, videos, and research are at the click of a mouse. It is shameful. It also makes the entire story a fiction. Because it is impossible, without our own extensive research, to find out what is fact, this story serves little purpose. As a fictional story, it lacks the heart and character changes needed for a good story arc. For non-fiction is lacks facts. 

If you are looking for some great books about these ladies for kids may I recommend: Me...Jane, The Watcher, Who is Jane Goodall?, Seeds of Hope (by Jane Goodall), Gorillas in the Mist, Letters From the Mist, Among the Orangutans, Reflections of Eden (Biruté Galdikas), Orangutan Odyssey