The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron (NetGalley Review)

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (April 25, 2017)
Description from the publisher:
40,000 years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate.
But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself.
In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women's lives. 

I do love a good dual timeline narrative, and the subject matter of this book felt different from the usual in the genre. I wasn't sure if the Neanderthal's story, given she has a vocabulary of less than half a dozen words, would make for riveting material. However, the author assuaged all of my doubts with such a strong voice for Girl, who is clearly the protagonist of this novel. 
Going into it, I thought I'd be more compelled by the modern day heroine, Dr. Gale. Yet, I found myself riveted by the everyday life of survival for Girl and her family, and wanting to hurry through the present day struggles of Dr. Gale. In any other novel, her story would be fraught with tension; but set against the backdrop of the literal life and death struggles of her Neanderthal counterpart, the money and job woes paled in comparison. 
Dr. Gale seems to serve as model for what we have lost versus the things we have gained in modern society. Cameron also deftly addresses how women's roles have changed in modern times, and there is a lot to unpack on feminism, family and what makes us human.
Additionally, the story made me more curious about the things that I might have missed in science class and the more recent studies on the intelligence Neanderthals. All around fascinating stuff that I would otherwise not have sought to learn more about - a sign of a really good book, methinks. Many thanks to Little, Brown and Company for an advance copy for my review!


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