Lucy and Bonbon: A Novel, by Don LePan

In Lucy and Bonbon, author Don LePan provides a fictional account of the early years of a human-bonzee hybrid named Bonbon, or Bobo, Gerson. The story is told first-hand through the viewpoints of various individuals associated with Bonbon, including his mother Lucinda Gerson, Lucinda’s sister Susanne, and Bonbon himself.

The story begins before Bonbon’s birth when Lucinda uses money left to her by an uncle to travel. As part of her itinerary, she plans to visit Susanne. Lucinda and Susanne live in very different worlds, both geographically and figuratively. Lucinda scraped through high school and started community college, but didn’t last a year. Susanne, by contrast, excelled in academia, obtained a doctoral degree, and became an anthropologist. Susanne’s current job has her working at a research station in the Congo, where she studies bonzees, a species of ape. It is while Lucinda is visiting the research station that the events leading to Bonbon’s conception occur.

Set largely in Canada, Lucy and Bonbon is, on one level, a work of speculative fiction that envisions how an ape-human hybrid, should such a being come into existence, might be treated. It is the story of a particular set of individuals and their struggles with the aftermath of their choices and the realities of their lives. At the same time, the novel also poses and discusses a number of ethical issues. Bonbon’s birth raises questions like, “What does it mean to be a person? What does it mean to be human?” (p. 70) In the preface, LePan asks:

“Has the existence of a hybrid ‘changed everything’ in terms of how we define what it means to be human and what it means to be animal? Has it, in effect, moved the line that we draw to separate ourselves from other species?” (p. vii)

In the preface, LePan states that the book is written as “first-hand accounts of the participants in the story.” (p. vii) Materials are presented as, ostensibly, excerpts from diaries, interviews, and the like. This lends the book such an air of authenticity that the reader can be forgiven for forgetting, from time to time, that Lucy and Bonbon is a work of fiction.

The author does a nice job of distinguishing between the various narrators, giving each their own personality. Lucinda’s writing is grammatically challenged and often laced with profanity, particularly in the early going, although she later makes an effort to tone things down for Bonbon’s sake. At the same time, her prose is at times almost lyrical. Bonbon’s writing shows some understandable difficulty with the English language, while at the same time remaining understandable. The writings of Ashley Rouleau, who enters the story just before midway through the novel, are some of the most incisive. Ashley serves as one of the volunteers working at the Sunderland Animal Research Institute, where Bonbon is housed for the first few years of his life. Ashley, who later becomes a friend to Lucinda and Bonbon, provides us with clear-eyed takes on Bonbon’s behaviour, what life is like for him at the Institute, and other matters.

See also  Lucien & Olivia by André Narbonne

Though Lucy and Bonbon is packed with information and speculation, it also has a plotline, in which Lucinda first frets about, then develops a plan to resolve, what she sees as shortcomings in Bonbon’s treatment. Due to a complex series of events, including Lucinda’s initial decision to give Bonbon up for adoption, he ends up being kept in a research institute that houses other primates, including bonzees, rather than living a more human kind of life.

Lucinda blames herself for this. Had she made different choices along the way, things might have been different. The result of a legal challenge dangles a tantalizing prospect in front of Lucinda. The ruling “made it official that, if Bonbon ever found a way to cross the border into America, his legal status would be that of a fully human person.” (p. 71) Knowing this, Lucinda, aided by Ashley, tries to find a way to gain freedom for her son. LePan builds to a suspenseful conclusion, keeping the reader guessing until the end. All in all, an interesting, entertaining, and emotionally impactful read.


Don LePan, founder and CEO of academic publishing house Broadview Press, is the author of several non-fiction books and of two other works of fiction; his novel Animals (2010) has been described by Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee as “a powerful piece of writing and a disturbing call to conscience.”

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ MiroLand (May 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 250 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771837187
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771837187

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