4 reviews

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
by Karen Joy Fowler

Published: 2013-05-30
Hardcover : 320 pages
6 members reading this now
21 clubs reading this now
5 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 4 members
Named a Best of 2013 pick by: The New York Times Book Review, Slate, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, The Christian Science Monitor, Library Journal, and BookPage

"I thought this was a gripping, big-hearted book . . . through the tender voice of her protagonist, ...
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Named a Best of 2013 pick by: The New York Times Book Review, Slate, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, The Christian Science Monitor, Library Journal, and BookPage

"I thought this was a gripping, big-hearted book . . . through the tender voice of her protagonist, Fowler has a lot to say about family, memory, language, science, and indeed the question of what constitutes a human being."--Khaled Hosseini

From the New York Times?bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club, the story of an American family, middle class in middle America, ordinary in every way but one. But that exception is the beating heart of this extraordinary novel.

Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. ?I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,â? she tells us. ?Itâ??s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you arenâ??t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fernâ??s expulsion, Iâ??d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.â?

Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, sheâ??s managed to block a lot of memories. Sheâ??s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, ?Rosemaryâ? truly is for remembrance.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


As part of leaving Bloomington for college and my brand new start, Iâ??d made a careful decision to never ever tell anyone about my sister, Fern. Back in those college days I never spoke of her and seldom thought of her. If anyone asked about my family, I admitted to two parents, still married, and one brother, older, who traveled a lot. Not mentioning Fern was first a decision, and later a habit, hard and painful even now to break. Even now, way off in 2012, I canâ??t abide someone else bringing her up. I have to ease into it. I have to choose my moment. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Early on in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the character Rosemary Cooke tells the reader that she will start her story "in the middle." Why is it important to her to skip the beginning?

Rosemary recounts many memories of the chimpanzee Fern and their brief life together. How were she and Fern, in the language of the novel, "Same" and "NotSame"? What does their relationship suggest about the compatibility of humans and primates? How are humans different from other animals?

How did being co-raised with a chimpanzee impact Rosemary's development? In what ways was she different from other, "normal" children? How does she still differ from them to this day?

Consider Rosemary's father and mother. Are they good parents? Should they have handled Fern's leaving any differently? If so, how?

Each member of the Cooke family was dramatically-indeed, traumatically-affected by the loss of Fern. Did they share a personal sense of guilt? Of regret? Of responsibility for what happened? If so, how did these emotions manifest themselves in each family member? How do their responses enrich our understanding of these people?

What is your opinion of Rosemary's brother, Lowell Cooke? Are his extreme views and actions at all justified? Does he truly have Fern's well-being at heart?

How does Harlow Fielding's whirlwind entrance into Rosemary Cooke's world alter Rosemary's trajectory through life?

Think about the significance of memory and storytelling in the novel. How is Rosemary's memory-and, consequently, her narrative-affected by the emotional trauma she has experienced?

Consider Harlow Fielding and Ezra Metzger's failed attempt to liberate monkeys from the primate center, both the motivations of these co-conspirators and the outcome itself. Was their mission in any way an admirable act? How were Harlow and Ezra's intentions different or similar to Lowell's?

Do you think Rosemary comes to find peace with her family history by the end of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves?

Is animal experimentation ever justified? If so, under what circumstances?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

“Rosemary’s voice—vulnerable, angry, shockingly honest—is so compelling and the cast of characters, including Fern, irresistible. A fantastic novel: technically and intellectually complex, while emotionally gripping.”

—Kirkus (starred review)

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Member Reviews

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by reiko k. (see profile) 05/19/22

by jeannie H. (see profile) 04/23/22

by Meg W. (see profile) 02/27/21

by Debra J. (see profile) 12/26/19

by Julie O. (see profile) 03/17/16

  "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves"by Margie H. (see profile) 03/16/15

Exceptionally well-written. funny yet poignant, this book has so many talking points for book clubs. Our club loved it, and we had a great discussion.

  "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves"by Susan A. (see profile) 09/27/14

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the way the story unfolded and the suspenseful aspect of this family drama. I also appreciated the way the narrator evolved and through her own telling ... (read more)

  "Gloomy"by Kristi F. (see profile) 03/11/14

I did not enjoy this book at all, it was very gloomy and dark. At times the novel seemed disjointed and hard to follow.

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