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Half Brother

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  5,765 ratings  ·  875 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)
Peter In a couple of places it describes young teenagers looking at girls breasts, etc, and "stiffening" while dancing. There's not much of it, but maybe en…moreIn a couple of places it describes young teenagers looking at girls breasts, etc, and "stiffening" while dancing. There's not much of it, but maybe enough to make it unsuitable for younger kids.(less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  5,765 ratings  ·  875 reviews

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Jul 25, 2011 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
Kara 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
Elyse Henwood
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favirote
At the beginning of the story Bens, mom brings home a baby brother...
An eight-year-old monkey!
His parents were scientists,
They moved to BC,
They taught the monkey to do people things...
Read this book to find the adventures that ben and monkey had together.
I recommend this book to people that like books that are based on real-life.
Mar 09, 2018 rated it liked it
So this book wasn't my favorite but I still really liked it. I liked how the mom surprised Ben with a chimp and at first he hated the chimp but as the book went on and as been got to know Zan (the chimp). Ben's mom and dad where scientists and they where doing an experiment about how chimps can learn sign language. Ben started getting closer to Zan and they hired one of the dads students who also came really close to Ben and Zan, but then the experiment fell through and they had to give up Zan t ...more
Kellee Moye
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
Lily Koh
Feb 11, 2016 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
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
 Hugo  Lee
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Ben Tomlin, our teenage narrator, is an only child who is upset because his father moved the family from Toronto to take up a university teaching and research post in Victoria. Rapidly, Ben's upset turns to even more when his mother (her husband's research assistant) arrives at their new home with a week-old baby chimpanzee in her arms. With no more better care than the animal himself got, Ben is expected to let Zan be treated as a sibling and to participate in the experiment of raising him and ...more
Nov 14, 2012 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
Feb 19, 2011 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
Mar 09, 2011 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,
Nov 17, 2012 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
Jul 24, 2012 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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-grade
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
May 16, 2011 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.
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
Diana Wilson
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating story about family, commitment and trust. Absolutely heartbreaking though. Left me feeling empty and sad.
Oct 18, 2010 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
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
Deborah Takahashi
Mar 29, 2013 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
Feb 16, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eh, reviewed

That kind of describes this book. For the premise of teaching a chimp to doesn't really do that. It focuses more on Ben hating his father, his father being a jerk, animal welfare, and Ben trying to get a girl to like him.

It's kind of boring.

I have three main problems besides that as well.

1. Why is it called Half Brother?
I guess it comes from when Ben says Zan is "half brother, half stranger", but he mentions this a whooping 1 time and it really doesn't symbolize anything. Half brother
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
Jan 08, 2013 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
Oct 28, 2010 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.
Aug 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 24, 2012 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
Mar 02, 2012 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
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
Meagan Moyer
Mar 18, 2015 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
Stephanie (Stepping Out Of The Page)
Oct 14, 2011 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
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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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