The average American spends most of their childhood in the states, but this was not the case for Keena Roberts. She spent her adolescent years switching between living in the suburbs of Pennsylvania and an island camp in Botswana. “Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs” is Roberts’ memoir about growing up in Africa with her primatologist parents and tough younger sister.
The book begins with Roberts’ time in Kenya as a small child before her parents moved her back to Pennsylvania. There she quickly learned she is a bit of an outsider. When her parents received funding and permission to study baboons in Botswana, Roberts was elated.
Life in Botswana is the life Roberts considers normal. She and her sister grew up independent and quickly learned what to do when they see a lion, how to shoot a snake or how to treat severe dehydration. Roberts writes about becoming accustomed to the wildlife and constant time outdoors in Botswana. America could not compare.
Her parents had to return to America periodically and teach at the University of Pennsylvania to keep their grants. During this time, Roberts writes about how difficult American school was for her. While in Botswana, the two Roberts girls were homeschooled by their parents. In America however, it was not the school work that was difficult, but the people. Roberts was always excited to return to her home, Baboon Camp.
Roberts was a voracious reader and spent her free time consuming books with strong and adventurous female leads such as Captain Nancy Blackett from “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome or the elf princess Laurana Kanan from the Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis. She compared her life to those of the characters and found strength in their companionship in a way that is relatable to avid readers.
Roberts’ book includes incredible chapter titles such as, “Can we swim away from this party?” and “Extreme driving in a broken Toyota.” Chapter titles can often add an extra layer of humor and these were an entertaining addition.
Roberts is easy to root for. Readers are scared along with her when hearing stories of leopard attacks or seeing black mambas in the sink, mad for her when peers at school are bullies and proud of her when she remains true to herself and does work to help others. She is tomboyish, a little awkward, a bookworm, an adventurer, smart and a lover of animals and the outdoors. Her book was well written and an incredible read.
Reading about Roberts’ life in Botswana sparks a sense of adventure. It causes readers to want to travel and experience new cultures and landscapes. This is the kind of book that grabs you from the beginning and cannot be put down until you have finished. “Wild Life” is funny, fresh, perfect for all ages and a great read for those who want to explore without leaving the comfort of their homes.