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Half Brother Hardcover – September 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 7-11–Thirteen-year-old Ben Tomlin's whole world is changing. His parents, research scientists, have moved them across Canada to be with their newest subject, Zan. Intending to prove that chimpanzees are capable of intelligent thought and communication, the Tomlins teach the baby chimp sign language and incorporate him into their daily lives. Thrust into a new school and, essentially, a new family, Ben is caught in a whirl of new emotions, especially when the lovely Jennifer comes onto the scene. Though Zan learns sign language relatively well, his animal instincts gradually become more pronounced and Ben and his parents must make some important decisions about the chimp's future. Oppel has taken a fascinating subject and molded it into a top-notch read. Deftly integrating family dynamics, animal-rights issues, and the painful lessons of growing up, Half Brother draws readers in from the beginning and doesn't let go. The carefully crafted characters will be an easy connection for teens and the interpretation of the animal-testing controversies of the 1970s will provide an alternate viewpoint for animal-book lovers. Sara Saxton, Tuzzy Consortium Library, Barrow, AK
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 680L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0545229251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0545229258
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #852,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kenneth Oppel is the author of numerous books for young readers. His award-winning Silverwing trilogy has sold over a million copies worldwide, and been adapted as an animated TV series and stage play. Airborn was winner of a Michael L Printz Honor Book Award, and the Canadian Governor General's Award for Children's Literature; its sequel, Skybreaker, was a New York Times bestseller and was named Children's Novel of the Year by the London Times. He is also the author of Half Brother, This Dark Endeavor, and The Boundless, a thriller set aboard the longest, most magnificent train ever built. His most recent book is THE NEST, a novel illustrated by Caldecott-winner Jon Klassen. Born on Vancouver Island, Oppel has lived in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, England, Ireland, and now lives in Toronto with his wife and children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
All the above reviews give insightful and thorough explanations of the story.

I write to express my admiration for Mr. Oppel's skill and gifts as a writer. I read about 30 to 50 middle school and YA books a year at my grandsons' requests. I enjoyed Percy Jackson; the Hunger Game Series; and many books dealing with wizards, magic, witches, and other fanciful characters set in the past, the present and the future. I have read books dealing with war, disease, physical handicaps, broken homes, bullies and other tragedies and problems.

I find books about regular children involved in the process of becoming thoughtful and feeling adults very hard to come by.

Half Brother is that book. The parents are real. The portrayal of adult life and academia is real. But, most of all, the hero is real. Although I am female; he seems to be like the boys I knew and know.

He has his feet on the ground; is respectful but not cowering; intelligient but not arrogant; self confident but capable of being humiliated. Filled with delicious humor and quick thinking, he is independent but not rebellious. His attachment to and love for the animal who comes into his life surprises him as well as the reader.
This attachment illustrates the qualities that make a boy into a man. He feels, but he also acts. And, he acts in a positive way and achieves results. This boy acts for the welfare of something outside himself. He does it without the aid of magic or the intercession of the gods.

I especially like the contrast in the story between the false and fanciful *love* he has for the gorgeous teen aged girl who uses him and the mature *real* love that he has for the animal.

This is the best book I read in the last two years. Both my 13 year old and my 11 year old grandson liked it. I hope that it finds its way onto Amazon's *best book* selections.

Mr. Oppel is a first rate writer (and that is understatement).
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J.Prather TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Half Brother is a well written story perfect for any young fan of realistic fiction. I went into this book with very few expectations and at first was a bit puzzled. After all, the whole teaching chimps to talk story was nothing new, and I wondered why this author was telling it again. Sure, the characters were great and the writing was sound, but what new things could possibly be brought to this story? It wasn't long before I realized that it wasn't really about Zan learning to talk, it was about Ben growing up. The author seamlessly interweaves the stories about a chimp learning to be human and a young boy growing up while bringing in some pretty significant philosophical questions. Ben turns his first crush into a science experiment, so while the scientists are dealing with project Zan, he's dealing with Project Jennifer. It's only later when project Zan goes south that he questions the wisdom of starting Project Jennifer in the first place and whether one person should ever attempt to control another.

The author brings in the ethics of animal testing but never in a way that seems heavy handed. He seems more interested in exploring the notion of what actually constitutes a person. Ben struggles with self esteem, his relationship with his father, and trying to find his place at a new school where he is automatically known as the "chimp boy". His interpretation of chimp behavior and his attempt to use their social rules as a guide for his high school life are sometimes poignant, funny and very telling.

While this book got off to a rather slow start, the excellent characters were able to effectively carry the story forward and readers will soon be thoroughly hooked by a story that is unpredictable, original and exceedingly well written.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Teen Reads on November 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Thirteen-year-old Ben Tomlin isn't so sure about his father's latest experiment. A well-known behavioral scientist, Dr. Tomlin has whisked the family away to a new university in a new city to pursue a new scientific study, which means lots of change for Ben. Not only will he have to go to a new school and try to make new friends, he also will have to deal with the newest addition to the family: a baby chimpanzee. His father is trying to discover whether or not chimpanzees can learn sign language, and the best way is for the baby chimp to be raised like a human.

The Tomlins decide to name the chimp Zan, and Ben is immediately skeptical. Zan doesn't like to wear diapers, makes loud hooting noises, and bites if he gets upset. He climbs all over Ben and likes to destroy anything and everything in sight. Zan is unlike any baby brother Ben has ever seen. He acts like, well, a monkey. But Zan loves Ben, and Ben slowly starts to warm up to him. Ben teaches Zan his first word and quickly becomes his favorite. Suddenly, Zan is no longer an experiment or even a chimp. Zan is Ben's half brother.

After learning more about Zan, Ben begins to take on some of his traits. He decides that he wants to be the dominant male in his new school. His confidence grows, as does his popularity, especially among the teenage girls. Although he may be the dominant male at school, Ben consistently has run-ins with the dominant male at home --- his father. Dr. Tomlin is upset over Ben's low grades and his indifference towards school. He's also worried about Ben's growing attachment with Zan. Ben doesn't understand why his father only thinks of Zan as an experiment and not a member of the family. And Ben is devastated to learn that the money is running out on his father's little experiment.
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