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Half Brother Hardcover – September 1, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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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 - 17 years
  • 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: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,151,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kathleen Casey on October 23, 2010
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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Format: Hardcover
One of the biggest, most ambitiously conceived, and richly imagined novels ever, The Half-Brother has already won the Nordic Council Literature Prize, and it has been nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. A haunting story of four generations of a strange Norwegian family, each member of which is "different" in some respect, this is as complete a family saga as you will find. Every character is fully delineated, and all his/her relationships and relevant past history are brought to life here, filtered through the mind of Barnum Nilsen, the son of a circus worker and grifter. Barnum's unusual but ultimately close relationship with his brother Fred, the product of his mother's rape by a soldier, is at the heart of the novel, with Fred being huge, active, and very physical while Barnum is unusually small, more passive, and cerebral. Two halves of the same coin, neither brother is very successful alone.
Four generations of the family live together, and some "absent" characters, who have affected the lives of family members, "live on" through objects that they have left behind with the family. Barnum and Fred often seek a connection to the past by reading the last letter their great-grandfather sent from Greenland before he vanished. Vera's best friend Rakel leaves Vera with a treasured ring, just before she is taken during the Nazi occupation of Norway. Barnum buys a ring for his first girlfriend, and it has meaning for him even when he is middle-aged. "We do not disappear without a trace," Barnum learns. "We leave a wake that never quite disappears, a gash in time.
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Format: Paperback
The Half Brother
Lars Saabye Christensen
Arcadia Books Ltd. 2003
This is a book that cries out to be read. It is, as one reviewer has put it, 'unputdownable.' It is a big book - in the English translation 764 pages.
Read it please. Read it please because it is a masterpiece in two of the three essentials of all great literature and art. It creates in the mind a sense of place and a sense of time.
Read it please because, like Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' or Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind' it will stay with you for the rest of your life.
If you have read Dostoevsky - remember Raskolnikov in 'Crime and Punishment.' If you have read Knut Hamsun's 'Hunger' - remember the streets of Oslo. If you have read neither - do so now. Recall if you can the spirit of Lauren Bacall and Bogart's line "I'm not very tall either. Next time I'll come on stilts."
It is rare that a translator can capture the spirit of the original. Kenneth Steven has achieved this. In a translators note he writes: 'All translation is a compromise; there are inevitable losses in bringing a richly woven literary text from its native tongue. It is not the thousands of words that pose the difficulty, it is the single words that have been chosen by the author for their resonance, for their resemblance to other words in the language, their interplay with different elements of the text.' A poet, Steven has isolated the words and given them their resonance.
The story begins with a rape and ends in an enigma. On page 659 you will read: "Tme and place; time seen from the place, and, not least, the place seen through time."
Action there is - this is no 'Waiting for Godot.' But when you have read from cover to cover you will be left with the words: "To tell you all this.
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