From School Library Journal
Gr 7-11-Ben, 13, and his family move from Toronto to Victoria, British Columbia, where his father, a behavioral scientist, is undertaking the most important research project of his life. They will take in a baby chimp, treat him like family and, using sign language, set out to document if the chimp can acquire and use human language. Back in the 1960s, this line of research was in its infancy, so the Tomlins are winging it on a lot of levels. Ben is not thrilled about the move, but when his new chimp brother arrives, everything changes. He falls in love with Zan (short for Tarzan) and becomes his constant companion. Zan begins to learn sign language and eventually to string two and three word sentences together. Despite his linguistic success, money dries up and Ben's family must abandon the study and maybe even Zan. Ben and his father square off about their level of responsibility for Zan and their relationship ultimately hangs in the balance. Kenneth Oppel's story (Scholastic, 2010) poses some important ethical questions that confront all researchers. Daniel di Tomasso's narration sometimes seems a bit rushed, but that can be overlooked given the typical speech pattern of teenagers. He occasionally intones the end of a sentence and then seems to discover that more is to come, resulting in some odd phrasing. However, the story itself is so strong and the narration is good enough that listeners will be drawn to this audiobook. A solid purchase for YA collections.-Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
On Ben’s thirteenth birthday, his parents introduce him to his new sibling: a hairy, swaddled baby chimp that will be raised as part of the family in an experiment run by Ben’s father, a behavioral psychologist. At first, Ben resists calling Zan his brother, but as he begins to communicate with Zan through sign language, he develops a true, loving connection with the little chimp, even as he realizes that his father views Zan as just a scientific specimen. What will happen to Zan when the experiment is over? Best known for his award-winning speculative fiction, Canadian author Oppel tells a thought-provoking story set in 1970s Victoria. A few drawn-out episodes and a somewhat rushed conclusion result in some uneven pacing. But Oppel beautifully grounds larger philosophical questions about the deep, mysterious bonds and boundaries between humans and animals with Ben’s coming-of-age concerns, including his first crush (whom he studies using scientific methods) and his acute awareness of family tensions, all narrated in his authentic voice. A moving, original novel that readers will want to ponder and discuss. Grades 7-10. --Gillian Engberg