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Half Brother

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,497 Ratings  ·  726 Reviews
For thirteen years, Ben Tomlin was an only child. But all that changes when his mother brings home 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 Za ...more
Audio CD, 375 pages
Published September 1st 2010 by Brilliance Audio (first published January 1st 2010)
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Books.Are.Life I have read Half Brother. Some (very small) parts of the book are kind of weird and in the beginning i didn't really like the book. But after a couple…moreI have read Half Brother. Some (very small) parts of the book are kind of weird and in the beginning i didn't really like the book. But after a couple chapters i started to love it. The book is amazing. It changed my view on human-animal relationships. And by the end of the book i was very attached to the characters. So i recommend you read it(less)
Half Brother by Kenneth OppelHaunting Violet by Alyxandra HarveyDear George Clooney by Susin NielsenNo Safe Place by Deborah EllisHome Truths by Jill MacLean
Red Maple Nominations 2012
1st out of 10 books — 19 voters
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. RowlingCatching Fire by Suzanne CollinsTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Most Orange Books of All Time
68th out of 748 books — 232 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 26, 2011 Nicole rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-geek-zoology
I would read this book over Sara Gruen's "The Ape House" Any day of the week. Unlike Gruen's book, which claims to glean inspiration from notable great ape ASL research experiments, namely, Project Washoe, Project Nim, Koko the gorilla, and Kanzi, this book actually reflects many of the situations encountered while these projects were active. Many parallels are drawn between Zan and Washoe (Roger Fouts' "Next of Kin: My Conversations With Chimpanzees"), including the plan behind the cross-foster ...more
Ben Babcock
Our capacity for language is one of the attributes often cited as what makes humans so distinct from other animals. It’s a controversial distinction, because we’ve observed other species communicate in very interesting and effective ways: whales sing, dolphins whistle, birds do whatever it is they do to switch places while in formation. Parrots, of course, can be trained to mimic human speech! But there’s a difference between replicating instinctual sounds with fixed meanings and being able to l ...more
Lily Koh
Feb 11, 2016 Lily Koh rated it really liked it
This book is about a boy named Ben who is a son of a scientist. His dad tries to do an experiment where chimps communicate with humans. He thinks of doing this by teaching a chimp ASL. Ben at first wasn't happy when his mom brought a chimp. But later on he started to love the chimp no matter what and think of him as a younger brother. But, there was a problem in between and they had to give the chimp away. He visited from time to time but noticed that the manager tried to sell the chimp. They st ...more
Ben is introduced to Zan when he is 8 days old. Zan is his new baby brother. At first Ben is resistant to loving Zan, but that changes as he gets to know him. Ben loves Zan more than anything in the world. He would do anything for him. But others, including his father, don't understand why he has such an attachment to Zan. Yes, Zan is his brother, but Zan is also a chimp. A chimp who Ben's father is researching by conducting an experiment to see if chimps can learn language. To Ben, Zan has beco ...more
Great historical fiction with a local angle (Victoria is a great weekend destination for my area), and a cool scientific/animal hook.

Booktalked this as part of my 2016 middle school sweep and it was a runaway hit.
This was an example of a book where I rewrote my booktalk to great success.
My first version focused on the "double-edged sword"ness of the similarities between humans and chimpanzees. My second booktalk took a scene from the book of Zan being adorable and brought it to life. Complete w
Feb 19, 2011 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had this book out from the library for months before I could bring myself to crack it open. It seemed so fraught with peril, and I was afraid of it.

It's the story of a young man, the son of scientists, who gets inextricably involved with his parents' experiment around teaching a baby chimp ASL while raising him as a human, or as near enough to a human as to make no difference. It's also the story of a young man falling in love for the first time, and adjusting to school, and dealing with a wel
Nov 15, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
In the early 1970s, Ben’s parents are at the cutting edge of behavioral animal research. When Ben’s father, Dr. Richard Tomlin, gets an appointment at a university that supports his proposed project for teaching American Sign Language to a chimpanzee, he moves his wife Sarah and 14 year-old son across Canada from Toronto to Victoria. Ben is not too excited about this, nor is he thrilled when his mother brings home an 8-day-old chimpanzee that Ben sees as ugly. They name the chimp Zan (after Tarz ...more
Jul 24, 2012 P.M. rated it it was amazing
I do not like chimpanzees or monkeys of any stripe. I always skipped that part of a zoo when visiting. Having said that, I loved this book about 13 - 15 year old Ben Tomlin whose parents have brought an infant chimp, Zan, into the family to study cross-fostering and language acquisition. Ben is a typical self-absorbed teenager at the beginning of the book, a typical boy who resents his parents making him move from Toronto to British Columbia. He even resents the chimp who will become their sole ...more
Afton Nelson
Mar 10, 2011 Afton Nelson rated it really liked it
Shelves: juvenile
I chose to read this book because I've enjoyed other books by Kenneth Oppel. By coincidence, I'd just heard the NPR "This American Life" podcast about Dr. and Mrs. Temrelin who "adopted" Lucy, a chimpanzee, and raised her as their own daughter--a story which did not have a happy ending. I also had recently listened to the NPR "Stuff You Should Know" podcast about How Face Transplants work and the several incidents of chimps raised in homes who suddenly turn violent and--well, the title of the po ...more
Nov 17, 2012 Brynn rated it it was ok
All right, let it be known that I am an enormous, gigantic, honking big fan of Kenneth Oppel. This Dark Endeavour and Airborn are my two favourite books, ever- books I read through fairly often for little to no reason, and books I occasionally sleep with like normal people might sleep with a teddy bear. Ridiculous perhaps? No, because it's true.
Anyways. To the point now. I didn't actually like this one. Usually Oppel's books are very engaging and interesting, but this one, I felt, never went any
Mar 09, 2011 Alan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Young minds with an interest in animal intelligence and animal rights
Recommended to Alan by: Olivia
Drawing liberally on real-life research into simian intelligence and language acquisition, this fictionalized take on Washoe the chimpanzee's life may be targeted at adolescent readers, perhaps, but it's a quick and enjoyable read for anyone who, say, likes Robert Sawyer but wants something lighter. I finished it in a single day, though it took me awhile longer to decide what to say about it.

The book as it stands has at least one significant flaw: I searched in vain for any foreword, afterword,
May 16, 2011 Brian rated it really liked it
In Oppel's latest novel, a boy is raised by two parents who are scientists. They decide to adopt a baby chimp (kidnap) and teach it to speak English. But his father isnt' as nice as he seems.. Is he using the chimp for more sinister purposes? Can the main character accept the chimp as a real member of his family? This book has some teen drama sprinkled into the fold. It was a fairly quick, but emotional read and I really enjoyed the interactions with the chimp, Zan.
5th grade book talk
What would you do if your parents suddenly brought home a baby and you’d had no idea beforehand? Would you be upset? Happy? Excited?

Ben Tomlin was an only child for thirteen years – and he thought he would stay that way. But then his mother brings home a new baby – only eight days old. No, Ben didn’t miss out on his mother being pregnant, and his parents didn’t adopt a baby without telling him. Well, they kind of did. Because the baby, Zan, is a chimpanzee.

Ben’s father is a
Seojin P
Jul 09, 2015 Seojin P rated it it was amazing
This book is about a family who got a baby chimp because the father was a scientist and wanted to test if the chimp was able to learn American Sign Language. The whole family, except for the father, treated the chimp like he was part of their family. The chimp was named Zan, which was a part of 'Tarzan'. Ben feels Zan is his baby brother and treats him like it. As time passes, Zan thinks he is human as well. He wore clothes like people and even food at the table. As time passed, Zan started to b ...more
Meagan Moyer
May 05, 2015 Meagan Moyer rated it liked it
This book was a fairly easy read, but I seriously enjoyed it. I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for animals so it’s no wonder I enjoyed it so much.
*Golden Line*
When the protagonist, Ben, eventually grows fonder with Zan, kinder words and thoughts come from Ben’s brain. Practically any time Ben spoke about Zan my heart melted (cheesy, I know.) Although, one part really stood out to me. Ben’s father had just finished discussing the new teaching tool they’d be using on Ben in the near futur
C.E. G
I imagine this book may have been transformative for me if I'd read it as a younger young adult - I loved animals, but I hadn't really considered animal rights, and this book (gently) forces the reader to consider the relationship between animals and humans. The story is about a 13-year-old Canadian boy whose professor parents adopt/abduct a baby chimp to raise as their own in an experiment to see whether or not chimps can learn ASL. I commend Kenneth Oppel for creating a book about vivisection ...more
Cormac's review (aged 10)

This book is about a family who adopt a baby chimp as part of an experiment to see whether he can be taught to communicate using sign language. The mother and father are both scientists and their son, Ben, is 13 when Zan comes to live with them. This is why the book is called Half Brother, because Ben has to accept this animal not as a pet, but as a brother. At first Ben has a hard time with this but eventually he comes to his senses and realises that Zan means more to h
Nicola Mansfield
Reason for Reading: Oppel is my favourite YA author and I read every new book he publishes.

This book is something completely different from Oppel's usual fare and I must admit I was a little leery going in, hoping this wasn't going to end up being a platform for animal rights. I need not have worried; Oppel is an accomplished writer and a reader can be confident that he is going to produce a well-crafted novel that will keep one glued to one's seat.

I read this book in one sitting, I was that tak
Stephanie (Stepping out of the Page)
Oct 31, 2011 Stephanie (Stepping out of the Page) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone looking for something different to your average YA book
This one took me by surprise. I wasn't particularly excited by the premise but it seemed different and so I thought I'd see what it was like. Half Brother is definitely something I'd recommend for any Young Adult reader. I was a little apprehensive about reading about a 13 year old, but Ben's emotions and thoughts felt older and they were definitely powerful. Ben was just as interesting as his Chimpanzee brother, Zan. It is a coming of age novel and his emotions were very realistic. The relation ...more
Dec 06, 2011 Paula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult
This is a BIG story. Ben's not thrilled when his academic parents adopt (some might say kidnap)a newborn chimp. His father wants to see if the chimp can learn language; his mother wants to see what will happen when the chimp is raised like a human baby in a human family. And Ben's life just has to fall in line with the program.

At the heart of the novel is the question of what it means to be human -- or animal. Can a chimp be equal to a human? How should humans treat animals? What's right? What's
Canadian Children's Book Centre
Reviewed by Lisa Doucet

When 13-year-old Ben and his scientist parents leave their home in Toronto to move to Victoria, British Columbia for his father’s important research project, Ben resigns himself to starting at a new school and making new friends. Typically, his father doesn’t seem interested in how Ben feels about any of this, all he can think about is his latest experiment in which he will study the possibility of teaching a chimpanzee sign language. As if the move isn’t enough to deal wi
Apr 01, 2012 Kieran rated it it was amazing
This is a review on Kenneth Oppel's book, Half Brother. I have read multiple of his books including the four books in the Silverwing series and the three in the Airborn series! From reading these novels, I know that he is an exceptional writer with lots of talent. Half Brother has definitely lived up to all my expectations and might be one of my favorite 'good'reads!
Half Brother is a story about a scientist named David Tomlin who is trying to teach a chimp ASL (American Sign Language) and rais
Mar 20, 2012 Beccar rated it really liked it
This review is on Half Bother by Kenneth Oppel.Here is a quick summary. This book is about a scientist trying to teach a chmpanzee language. They know they cant talk so they are teaching the chimp ASL 9american sign language.) Zan(the chimp)Was raised with the scientist David, his son Ben Tomlin, and his wife Sarah.The family of three moved to Victoria all the way from Toronto Ontario. Ben not only had to learn the ASL, learn how to live with Zan, but he had to make new friends and go to a whole ...more
Oct 28, 2010 Matthew rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Grade 8 and up
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 09, 2011 Sarah rated it really liked it
Ben's parents are both scientists but he is shocked when they announce that they are adopting a chimpanzee so they can try to teach it sign language. He isn't keen on the idea and really doesn't want to have to move across the country to be nearer the university that is funding the experiment either. When Zan arrives Ben is told to think of him as a younger brother, Zan is to be raised as a human child and the whole family must be involved along with several students from the university. But wha ...more
Mar 30, 2011 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kenneth Oppel is a fine writer and this is an excellent read for everyone but especially younger teens who can identify with the fourteen year-old protagonist Ben. My favorite character was the research assistant Peter who seemed to have the right balance of compassion and common sense. Runner up is Ben's long-suffering Mom. I put her in the Marge Simpson "Why do you stay married to that jerk?" category. I despised Ben's father but young adults' abhor parental divorce so Oppel couldn't do that. ...more
Deborah Takahashi
Mar 29, 2013 Deborah Takahashi rated it it was amazing
After his parents moved him across the country, Ben has to get used to a new school, make new friends, and become a big brother to the newest addition to the Tomlin-- a baby chimp. Ben is not at all excited about his parents latest research project, which is teach language to this chimp. The moment his mom brought the baby home, he wanted absolutely nothing to with him because he had bigger problems to worry about--getting into an elite prep school, making new friends, and dating the cutest girl ...more
Jan 08, 2013 Megan rated it it was amazing
Last year I bought a book called 'The Discursive Mind', which argued that the difference between humans and animals is, essentially, the ability to communicate. In parts, it talked about the experiments done with sign language and chimps in the 70's, and the difference between speech and communication. While it was a fantastic book, and challenged me to really think, 'Half Brother' asked me to do the same kind of thinking, without the need for 'expert language', wrapped in a story that progressi ...more
Penny McGill
Martha and I were just sorting through her bookshelves (Saturday morning tidy up) and remembered how much we both loved this book. Kenneth Oppel was in K-W to be the writer in residence for KPL and he was giving a book talk at one of the local branches so we cheerfully went along with our books to be signed and hear some of his wisdom. He spoke about this book and the Frankenstein series and fielded questions from children and adults who were keen to write.

We probably wouldn't have chosen to re
Jan 14, 2013 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
This was a very well written and thought provoking book. Ben's parents are both researchers and they bring in an addition to the family. It is a baby gorilla that they call "Zan". Over time, Ben becomes very close to Zan and he considers him a brother. Zan is being observed to see if he can learn language and he is treated like a human such as having him wear clothing. The research team is teaching Zan ASL (American Sign Language). On the surface, it appears like the treatment of the gorilla is ...more
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I was born in 1967 in Port Alberni, a mill town on Vancouver Island, British Columbia but spent the bulk of my childhood in Victoria, B.C. and on the opposite coast, in Halifax, Nova Scotia...At around twelve I decided I wanted to be a writer (this came after deciding I wanted to be a scientist, and then an architect). I started out writing sci-fi epics (my Star Wars phase) then went on to swords ...more
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“I turned around and headed back to the stairwell, planning to go downstairs and buy a chocolate bar from the vending machine. Maybe it would fall on me and end my misery.” 8 likes
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