Half Brother- Kenneth Oppel

Written By: Kellie - Sep• 30•11

Synopsis: For thirteen years, Ben Tomlin was an only child. But all that changes when his mother brings home his new “baby brother” Zan – an eight-day-old chimpanzee. Ben’s father, a renowned behavioral scientist, has uprooted the family to pursue his latest research project: a high-profile experiment to determine whether chimpanzees can acquire advanced language skills. Ben’s parents tell him to treat Zan like a little brother. Ben reluctantly agrees. At least now he’s not the only one his father’s going to scrutinize.

It isn’t long before Ben is Zan’s favorite, and Ben starts to see Zan as more than just an experiment. His father disagrees. To him, Zan is only a specimen, no more, no less. And this is going to have consequences. Soon Ben is forced to make a critical choice between what he is told to believe and what he knows to be true — between obeying his father or protecting his brother from an unimaginable fate. -Goodreads


Review: This book is right up my alley, I really wonder why I didn’t read it sooner. Family drama, chimpanzee’s, sign language and science, all wrapped up in YA fiction. Sign me up! That being said, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.That’s the downside of expectations I guess.

While the main character Ben definitely came off as a believeable teenage boy, I found myself having difficulty relating too him. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve never been a teenage boy or maybe that I’ve never had a chimpanzee living in my house but that shouldn’t have been a problem, I should have been 100% behind the character anyways. If I can get into the head of a serial killer, wizard, mermaid or schizophrenic then a teenage boy really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch. I found myself reading the story, rather then being truly engaged in it. Ben frequently stated that the chimpanzee his parents brought home was like his little brother but sometimes his feelings seemed to lack real depth.

That being said, there was an innocence to this novel that you really don’t see much of anymore. Likely because it is set in the seventies, but this books reads a little more like the teen books I grew up with than the sometimes angsty, frequently dark teen books we read now. The romance is fumbling and awkward rather than legendary and undying. Ben’s parents are real people rather than never present or freakishly lenient. At one point Ben writes a piece for his English class using only words Zan knows in order to show that Zan really does understand the world around him and the words he’s using. It’s really touching but his teacher only gives him a C and tells him to stop messing around. Bah!

While the story itself is hit and miss, the part that is really well done is the issue behind the story. Kenneth Oppel does a good job of showing both sides of the coin. Pro animal rights and pro animal testing for the benefits of human health. Personally, I’m firmly on the animal rights side of thing and can’t say that I felt any understanding who only thought of Zan (the chimpanzee) as a test subject or experiment, both sides were represented and that’s something.

While this book didn’t quite reach the potential it had in my head, it was a refreshing read and is obviously not a subject that’s covered very often. If you have a strong opinion on animal testing you should definitely pick this one up as it’s sure to get you thinking.


Second Opinions:
@ I was a Teenage Book Geek
@ Feeling Fictional
@ Bob’s Book Blog

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