Karen's Reviews > Half Brother

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
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's review
Jan 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: animal-stories, science-fiction, favorites
Read in January, 2011

Teenage Ben must adjust to having a new baby brother - made all the more challenging because his family has just moved to a new city and the "baby" is a chimpanzee. It's the 1970's, Ben's parents are both scientists and his father is conducting a high-profile experiment to see if chimps can learn sign language. Ben's mom is studying "cross-fostering" of species, so the plan is to have baby Zan live with the family and be treated as a human. This intriguing and poignant story tells of the powerful attachment that forms between Ben and Zan, and what happens when the sign language experiment fails and its funding evaporates.

Despite a few unfinished (and implausible) plot elements, I thoroughly enjoyed this unique book. I especially liked the way Oppel allows Ben to become extremely nurturing, tender and passionate towards Zan, while at the same time he struggles with "typical" teenage boy issues (trying to make new friends, dealing with a fierce crush on a girl, getting into trouble for trespassing, etc.). I often find characters in YA books sound much older and more mature than they are, but 13-year-old Ben does not. Male readers will identify with Ben and hopefully internalize the idea that all types of emotions are fine to express.

The scientific aspect of the book is very interesting and may stimulate some teens to investigate the linguistics and animal experimentation issues in more depth. Nearly all the characters are complex and realistic (including Zan) and the numerous moral issues are not neatly resolved. An excellent choice for teens looking for something slightly different.

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