Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs” as Want to Read:
Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  929 ratings  ·  166 reviews
Keena Roberts split her adolescence between the wilds of an island camp in Botswana and the even more treacherous halls of an elite Philadelphia private school. In Africa, she slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire, and lived each day alongside the baboon colony her parents were studying. She could wield a spear as easily as a pencil, and it wasn't unusual to be chased by ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 12th 2019 by Grand Central Publishing
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Wild Life, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Bmarino Outstanding book in so many regards- life in the outdoors, bravery and independence, teenage angst, not knowing racial prejudice, dealing with culture…moreOutstanding book in so many regards- life in the outdoors, bravery and independence, teenage angst, not knowing racial prejudice, dealing with culture shock, bullying, empathy for all creatures.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.27  · 
Rating details
 ·  929 ratings  ·  166 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs
Diane S ☔
Dec 08, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf-2021
Upon finishing this book I felt a bit of envy, she experienced things most people never will. Certainly I won't. I also felt a deep sympathy. It was incredibly difficult going from Baboon Camp in Botswana, where she knew the dangers and was treated like an adult, to a private school in Pennsylvania, where she was treated as a bit of a freak. Called monkey girl, she didn't know how to fit in, didn't know the current culture and had few friends. In and out of school, she didn't have the time to ca ...more
Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest

The movie Mean Girls opens up with Cady Heron returning to normal high school life after spending the last 12 years in Africa with her zoologist parents. Applying the same observational skills she acquired in Africa, Cady quickly observes that people, like animals, tend to stay in their own groups and exhibit hierarchical displays of social dominance and aggression. I always thought that was a really cool hook but it seemed unrealistic--
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
In this engaging memoir, teenage Keena Roberts’ parents studied baboons in an Island camp in Botswana. Keena spent her time either there, or in a fancy private school in Philadelphia. Which do you think was harder for Keena to adapt to? This was like a real life Mean Girls crossed with a life in rural, wild, Africa. I loved this. Wild Life is about culture. Fitting in. Coming-of-age. Keena has an insightful, relatable story to tell.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher.

Many of my
Erin Khar
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was fortunate to be able to read an advanced copy of Wild Life. This is the kind of memoir that surprises, the kind you can't put down. It's going to appeal to a broad audience — will please both adults and the YA crowd. I absolutely loved this book. Keena's strong voice is funny and fresh and bright. I was enthralled with her adventures; there is a certain magic that comes through the pages. I highly recommend this captivating gem of a book. ...more
Aug 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
This review and more can be found on The Book Bratz.

When I first heard about Keena's book during one of the #Class2k19Books chats that we were given the awesome opportunity to host, I was immediately intrigued. A story about a girl who split her time growing up between her parents' research camp in Botswana and an elite high school in Philly? It sounded exactly like Mean Girls, which is exactly up my alley. And when I found out that it was nonfiction, and was actually Keena's own experience? Tha
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
I went into this thinking it might be similar to Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. But no. There was no alcoholism. And no family dysfunction. And no terrorists. And no Uzis. And no residual racist postcolonial attitudes. So. No, it isn't like Fuller's book. Maybe more like Swiss Family Robinson, Botswana style.

Black mamba snakes in the sink. Man-eating crocodiles, and hippos that want to chomp your little boat in two. Climbing a tree to avoid a lion attack. Large dangerou
Kelly Coon
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I’ve never been so in love with a memoir. Roberts brought me to the Okavango Delta and her family’s research baboon camp, and I felt as if I were actually there. With vivid descriptions and harrowing real life tales (I am SHOCKED by that boat she captained at 10 years old), her storytelling snagged me by the mouth and reeled me in. This is one of my favorite reads this year!!!
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I rarely, if ever, read memoirs. Every now and then, if it’s someone of great cultural/historical significance, then perhaps, but I tend to stay away, especially if it’s just your average person. It’s a subjective thing, really, nothing against the genre of a whole.

Keena Roberts’s Wild Life, however, is a phenomenal example and I’m so happy that I was given the opportunity to read her ARC. She tells her story with depth, humor, and heart, and when you’re done, you can almost believe you were stu
K.A. Black
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is, by far, the best non-fic book I've read. Roberts drops you right into her life at a young age and does a great job of bringing you right along with her first to Kenya, then the US, and finally to Botswana. I found myself having to actively pull myself away because I wanted to know all about Roberts growing up between the two continents and the different lives she led between them. How she saw herself as two parts (something I'm sure many geeks or nerds can relate to), and having to hide ...more
Carole (Carole's Random Life)
This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books.

I really enjoyed this book! If you follow my reviews, you probably already know that my taste in books is pretty eclectic. While I am willing to read anything that sounds interesting, I don't read a lot of memoirs because they rarely appeal to me. I have zero desire to read about celebrities which eliminates a lot of memoirs. A story about a normal person doing extraordinary things is exactly the kind of thing I can get into so I wen
Sep 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, memoirs, nature
After reading Keena Robert's memoir, I am going to assume the front cover photo is photoshopped, since one learns from the book that the hippopotamus is the most dangerous creature in all of Africa. Personally, I learned lots and lots of stuff about life in Africa that I did not know. Ms. Roberts fascinates the reader with all that she experienced as a child living in Botswana, part of the year, with her little sister and parents who were both primatologists. All that she had to do to be a part ...more
Sep 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book so much, I worry there is no possible way I could write a review worthy of the book. As lacking as my review might be (if I could give myself the kind of pep talk Keena gave herself - those were fantastic - I might have a chance of writing an acceptable review), this book is better than good or great - it's quality, and a treasure. It's not just the exciting adventures that Keena has in Kenya or in Botswana, when she lived in Baboon Camp and makes pretty admirable contributio ...more
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I always wondered where Pippi Longstocking went on her journeys, and I feel like I just got a little glimpse. It’s hard to believe that this is a memoir and that’s what I loved most about it.

I like memoirs but they’re often so depressing. Wild Life reads like YA fiction! It has its sad moments but was more often a funny, relatable book told in the voice of a charming, if sometimes naive, child. If you like animals, nature facts, and travel there is a lot to love about this book. I learned so mu
Margo Tanenbaum
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this memoir about a young American girl growing up in Kenya and Botswana as the child of American baboon researchers/academics. Much to her dismay, her parents made her go to high school in the US, where she never quite fit in at a Pennsylvania elite private school. In the bush, with only her sister for a playmate, she was treated as a small adult by both African staff , her parents, and other adults, given a level of responsibility that she never would have had in the US. No wonder she ...more
Eva Seyler
People, I’ve been waiting eagerly for this book since the minute I first heard about it early this year. I just finished reading an ARC and it was as amazing as I’d hoped. Having grown up in the same era, in a weird subculture of my own, I could really identify with the culture shock and the societal expectations Keena faced every time she went back to the US as a kid. I loved the tales of animal encounters too and the contrasts between animal social structures vs those of humans.
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a great read about growing up in a life divided between the social hierarchy of a baboon troop in the Okavango Delta, where the author's primatologist parents studied how the baboons communicated, and the much crueler hierarchy of the mean girls back home at a high school in Philadelphia.

Highly recommended.
Beth Brittingham
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Keena's story was amazing to me. Having had two children, I couldn't imagine taking them away from creature comforts and relative safety to go half way around the world to live in a baboon camp. Literally.

I don't want to be a spoiler so not too many details but several times in the book my heart was racing. Danger! When it wasn't racing, it was breaking. With what seemed like break neck speed she navigated between the Okavango Delta in Botswana to prep school in America. Bullies!

Good read!
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley-books
This memoir follows the author's dual lives as she follow her parents to their work in Africa with monkeys to Pennsylvania where she attends a normal school. The adjustment is not an easy one for her and the resulting coming of age tale is filled with honesty, growth and humor. Her descriptions of Botswana are breathtaking and the stories she tells of the animals she come into daily contact with are amazing. This is definitely my favorite memoir of the year. I received a digital ARC of this book ...more
K.A. Doore
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-reads
WILD LIFE is such a fun and thoughtful and heart-filled memoir. Deftly written, it's the story of a girl who grows up with one foot solidly in a research camp in Botswana and one toe tentatively in a private school in Philadelphia. It's filled with the kind of stories that would never work in fiction, because they'd be considered "too unrealistic" - yet they all happened to Roberts.

It's hard to review memoir because there's a real person tangled up in the story, but I thought the balance of narr
I loved every minute of this memoir of Roberts's unique childhood. She, her sister, and her parents, research primatologists, spent half of their year working in Botswana in "Baboon Camp" and the rest of the year off the Main Line in the Philly suburbs at a private school. It's a really fascinating story of falling in love with Africa and growing up understanding what it is to be privileged enough to live such a life, as well as what it is to have a really wild and free -- yet at times downright ...more
Nov 03, 2019 added it
I don't usually read memoirs but I absolutely devoured this one in a single night because I couldn't put it down. It's fun and different and interesting and most of it feels like if you got to see a documentary on Mean Girls that delved strictly into those brief clips from Africa, and then it lands in an unexpected place that's exactly where it should and that I really appreciated. As soon as I finished I got excited to lend it out and recommend it, and that's one of my absolute favorite post-re ...more
Alicia Bayer
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great read. I'm starting it with with my kids today after finishing it myself. Full review on my homeschool site here: ...more
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I had such a wonderful time reading about Keena Robert's childhood. She has lived in Africa and Botswana. Yet, occasionally, she and her family would come back to the United States when her parents were done with their research in the "field" and needed to come back to compile their research and renew their passports.

The first time that Keena went back to public school in the US; I felt back for her. I could picture her dance with the gorilla and all of the other girls in their ballet outfits.
Robin Loves Reading
Keena Roberts split her time in Kenya, then Botswana, and also Philadelphia as her famous primatologist parents worked on a baboon camp. The wilds had plenty of danger, but when back in the States, Keena had just as much danger - from mean-spirited girls who never made her feel accepted.

For more of my thoughts on this captivating memoir, please see this YouTube video review -
Karen Canova
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This wonderful book is many things — a marvelous adventure-filled memoir by the daughter of primatologists who spent her formative years in Kenya then Botswana living in a camp near the baboons that her parents studied, as well as a beautifully written, at times heartbreaking, coming-of-age story about the challenges of peer pressure and fitting in during those periods when the family was living back in the US. The author’s parents were academics who, when not in the field studying baboons, were ...more
Dec 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ok, the cover is fantastic, in a literal sense... no way would she actually have been that close to hippos, as those are super dangerous critters. Not to mention that an inner tube float was never mentioned and would also not be a good fit for Baboon Camp. But it's certainly an appealing cover, and does speak a truth beyond facts.

The book is so much fun to read, but also thoughtful. I love that bits of Keena's childhood journal and schoolwork are included. I worry about Brooke (just what was her
Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
Roberts writes in an easy to read narrative style with vivid descriptions that made me wish to visit the Okavango Delta even while she clearly spells out the dangers and also made me really glad that I did not go to a select private academy even though I slightly envied her handful of lifelong friends made at the school.
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This may well be the best book I've read all year. It is well written, engaging, adventurous, and so far outside my real world experience, I was smitten. I just wanted to escape into this book every chance I could. Thank you Keena Roberts for sharing your life story. ...more
Chris Baron
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was fortunate to read an advanced copy of Wild Life. So first of all--ever since I was a kid I have dreamed of going to the Okavango Delta, so when I read about the premise of this book I immediately put at the top of my "to-read." It did not disappoint. I love non-fiction-and creative non-fiction even more and this book is so beautifully told from start to finish. The reflection between Baboon Camp and going to school in Philadelphia is eye opening, painfully true, and hopeful. Not only is th ...more
I really enjoyed this. The comparisons to Mean Girls is inevitable, of course, and definitely a part of what piqued my interest to read it, but this is not Mean Girls.

What I found most interesting about Keena Robert’s childhood is her annual transition to life in the US after months is near isolation in the middle of a game reserve in Botswana. It’s fairly obvious that Roberts wasn’t particularly keen to dwell on those moments, as they obviously caused a lot of pain. But they way she’s able to
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: Wild Life - 5 stars 3 17 May 22, 2020 08:45AM  
Who else is super excited for this book? 2 11 Jun 22, 2019 12:32PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life
  • Jefferson's Sons
  • Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America's National Parks
  • They Called Us Enemy
  • Rough Country (Virgil Flowers, #3)
  • The Feather Thief
  • Where the Light Enters (The Waverly Place #2)
  • The Body in Question
  • Southernmost
  • Man Cuffed (Man Hands #4)
  • The Paragon Hotel
  • Girl Walks Into a Bar...: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle
  • Dead Before Dying (Shadow Valley Manor #1)
  • Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry
  • The Little Book of Going Green: Ways to Make the World a Better Place
  • Last Ones Left Alive
  • The Fever King (Feverwake, #1)
  • Fortress of Blood (Mina Murray #2)
See similar books…
See top shelves…

Related Articles

March is Women’s History Month, dedicated to the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.   Some...
289 likes · 70 comments
“Animals were predictable, and therefore easy to be safe around.... If we all followed the rules, no one would get hurt. It made so much more sense than in America, where no one followed the rules, and whether I got bullied or teased had nothing to do with my own behavior.” 1 likes
More quotes…