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Half Brother

Half Brother

4.4 39
by Kenneth Oppel

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From the Printz-Honor-winning author of Airborn comes an absorbing YA novel about a teen boy whose scientist parents take in a chimpanzee to be part of the family.

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


From the Printz-Honor-winning author of Airborn comes an absorbing YA novel about a teen boy whose scientist parents take in a chimpanzee to be part of the family.

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 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

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Half Brother:

* "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." - SLJ, starred review

"Set in the simpler time of the early '70s, this well-plotted novel weaves together themes of animal rights, family issues and the cost of animal research....There are no easy answers, just a thoughtful portrayal of real people grappling with tough questions." - Kirkus

"Half Brother is highly recommended for all YA collections....a funny and exceptional story" - VOYA.

Publishers Weekly
Ben is less than thrilled that his 13th birthday includes moving across Canada and getting a new "half brother"--a baby chimpanzee named Zan that Ben's father, a behavioral psychologist, will be raising like a human to determine if chimps can learn sign language. Gradually, Ben comes around, learning more about Zan and chimps, but he still struggles with his social life in his new school, his parents' high expectations, and Zan's role in their lives--is he family or just an "animal test subject?" Eventually he becomes Zan's greatest advocate when the project--and Zan's life--are threatened. While Ben and his family initially anthropomorphize Zan, Oppel doesn't, and as Zan gets older and stronger, the characters (and readers) are able to see an honest portrait of chimpanzee behavior, from the very best to the most brutal. Set in 1973, Zan's story echoes that of real chimpanzee studies of the era, though Oppel (the Airborn series) avoids dry factual recitations, or proselytizing when animal activism is introduced. Oppel's story is filled with compassion and has no easy answers. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
VOYA - Sarah Sogigian
Thirteen-year-old Ben moves with his parents from Toronto to Victoria in the summer of 1973 so his father can accept a job as a professor at the local university. While Ben is not pleased to uproot his life, he is even less thrilled to learn that there will be a new addition to his family: a newborn brother named Zan. Zan is a chimpanzee, taken from his mother as a test subject for Ben's parents. Ben is instructed to treat Zan as a human; Ben's dad is out to prove that chimps can learn a language from humans, American Sign Language. While Ben and his mom adapt Zan to living like a human, his dad's work is strictly scientific—Zan will always be a test subject. But when the experiment is deemed a failure, Ben's dad decides their use for Zan is over. It is up to Ben to save his brother from a cruel keeper, pharmaceutical companies, and the human life Zan has lead so far—the life Ben helped create. Oppel tackles a timely topic—what defines a family: humans, actions, language? Readers will also identify with Ben's coming-of-age story and the unique ways he deals with situations all teens face. Ben is a wonderfully developed character, his witty imagination a product of a time when rec rooms, pinball, and BB guns were accessories in life. Half Brother is highly recommended for all YA collections. While it may not appeal to all teens, those who do read it will be rewarded with a funny and exceptional story they will not soon forget. Reviewer: Sarah Sogigian
Children's Literature - Elizabeth D. Schafer
While astronauts orbit Earth in Skylab and ABBA tops record charts, Canadian teenager Ben Tomlin copes with diverse traumas coinciding with his thirteenth birthday in summer 1973. Ben's entry into adolescence converges with disruptions and sacrifices for his parents' careers as behavioral psychology researchers. He tolerates a move from Toronto to Victoria and immersion into an unfamiliar place where he endures antagonistic peers. Similarly, the chimpanzee, Zan (short for Tarzan), only days old, has been removed forcibly from his environment to reside with the Tomlins who teach him human vocabulary with sign language and instruct Ben to consider Zan a family member. Ben's parents redesign their lives and a house to conduct Project Zan. Ben interacts with college students his parents hire to tend Zan, bonding with Peter, who becomes a figurative older brother. The pair discusses ethical issues associated with experimental animals. The theme of control is symbolized by a chair used to restrain Zan. Both Ben and Zan struggle with how captivity confines their instincts. As Zan matures, his moods and size endanger humans. Ben's father reacts to failed grant applications and researchers' rejection of his work by permitting Zan to be sold, dismissing Ben's emotional attachment to the chimpanzee. Agonized Ben, fearing Zan will become vulnerable to biomedical experimentation, seeks solutions to protect him. Refusing to be intimidated and dominated, Ben assertively questions and disobeys rules others establish. Characterizations effectively show how civilization and wilderness paradoxically intersect. Readers will empathize with Ben's heart-rending predicament. Compare the role of language in Edgar Rice Burroughs's book Tarzan of the Apes (1914) and the film Planet of the Apes (1967). Read with Peter Dickinson's provocative novel Eva (1989). Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer
April Wulber
On Ben's 12th birthday, his mom comes home with an eight-day-old chimp. Both of Ben's parents are scientists, and the chimp is their new project. Ben's father is clear that the chimp is to be used for science, but Ben's mother's project has a different twist, and she wants to really treat the chimp as a member of the family. Ben doesn't like Zan (the chimp) at first, but then he becomes attached to him as if he were his little brother. When Ben's father decides that Zan isn't learning language as well as he should, Zan gets sent to a refuge for chimps. When Ben realizes that Zan is going to be sold for medical research, he steals him back. Eventually, Zan ends up in a sanctuary where he is safe from research and can live with other chimpanzees in an appropriate and protected environment. Reviewer: April Wulber
School Library Journal
Gr 7–11—Ben, 13, and his family move from Toronto to Victoria, British Columbia, where his father, a behavioral scientist, is undertaking the most important research project of his life. They will take in a baby chimp, treat him like family and, using sign language, set out to document if the chimp can acquire and use human language. Back in the 1960s, this line of research was in its infancy, so the Tomlins are winging it on a lot of levels. Ben is not thrilled about the move, but when his new chimp brother arrives, everything changes. He falls in love with Zan (short for Tarzan) and becomes his constant companion. Zan begins to learn sign language and eventually to string two and three word sentences together. Despite his linguistic success, money dries up and Ben's family must abandon the study and maybe even Zan. Ben and his father square off about their level of responsibility for Zan and their relationship ultimately hangs in the balance. Kenneth Oppel's story (Scholastic, 2010) poses some important ethical questions that confront all researchers. Daniel di Tomasso's narration sometimes seems a bit rushed, but that can be overlooked given the typical speech pattern of teenagers. He occasionally intones the end of a sentence and then seems to discover that more is to come, resulting in some odd phrasing. However, the story itself is so strong and the narration is good enough that listeners will be drawn to this audiobook. A solid purchase for YA collections.—Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Kirkus Reviews

Ben Tomlin and his parents move to Vancouver for his father's new job with the university. Ben's father is a researcher, and his project seeks to prove that chimpanzees can learn sign language, and this means having the object of the study as part of their family. Initially, Ben resents Zan's place in their lives, but he is won over by the baby chimp. Their project attracts good and bad press and places pressures on the family. Despite the project's importance, Ben is still coping with a new school, friends and his first romantic attraction. Everything is pushed aside when Ben's father announces that the project has failed and Zan must be placed elsewhere. Ben's attachment makes him take drastic measures to save Zan. Set in the simpler time of the early '70s, this well-plotted novel weaves together themes of animal rights, family issues and the cost of animal research. The normal teen problems in Ben's life ground the book nicely and prevent it from feeling entirely issue-driven. There are no easy answers, just a thoughtful portrayal of real people grappling with tough questions. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Kenneth Oppel is the bestselling author of Skybreaker and Airborn, a Printz Honor Book. He lives in Toronto with his family and can be found online at www.kennethoppel.ca.

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Half Brother 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book this morning. This has to be the best book i've read. Its very heartwarming between zan and ben. I highly recommend this book. The ending really fits the book. I wouldn't want to ruin it so i'm just going to say this is a great book for any age to read. Love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked how the book showed the changing of Ben and Zan's relationship and some of the troubles that Ben had because he loved and wanted to protect Zan.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Ben can't believe he is being forced into becoming part of his father's latest science experiment. Being the only son of a college professor/research scientist hasn't really bothered Ben, but things have suddenly changed. First of all, the family has moved clear across Canada, so he will be getting used to a new home, new school, and a whole new group of friends. The other big change is that he is about to become a brother. Well, sort of... Dr. Tomlin is beginning a research experiment to prove that chimpanzees can learn to communicate with humans. He and his wife will be working together to raise a baby chimp as part of their family and attempt to teach the chimp to communicate using ASL - American Sign Language. As part of the family, their son, Ben, will be expected to treat the chimp as a younger sibling and help in the teaching process. Ben thinks the idea is crazy. Yes, the chimp is cute and cuddly, but it's a chimp, not a human. Why does he have to participate in this wild experiment? Much to his surprise, it doesn't take long for him to bond with the chimp and become just as excited as his parents when the little guy begins to catch on to the whole communication experience. The chimp is christened Zan, and he quickly becomes part of the family. Ben's life starts changing at a fairly rapid pace. As news of Zan begins to spread, Ben's popularity at his new school soars. Everyone is interested in watching Zan and hearing about his crazy antics. Ben and his parents are busy night and day helping the chimp assimilate to his new surroundings. So busy, in fact, that Ben's father hires multiple graduate students to help care for Zan and record the endless videos and written notes necessary to chart the chimp's progress. Ben's life is a whirlwind of activity. HALF BROTHER by author Kenneth Oppel is set in 1973, at a time when chimpanzee experiments dominated the science world. He deftly combines the fascinating results of animal studies with the daily life of a teenage boy. As the chimp grows and learns to interact with humans, so does Ben as he finds his place in new surroundings and as a maturing teenager. The complexities of the research study and the growing emotional attachment of raising Zan make HALF BROTHER a novel that will have readers laughing and cheering one minute and gasping in horror the next. Prepare to be entertained but also touched by emotion and regret.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I give this five stars. It is one of the best books ive ever read and ive read a lot. Its really touching and makes you cry laugh and gasp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
E.e leaves and went to the forest
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Id have to say that this is one of the greatest books ive ever read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey i think u got locked out go to the next result
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was interesting for themost part. I enjoyed it but I felt like zan acted like a spoiled brat and I didn't actually like his character. Ben on the other hand I thought really had an interesting point of view
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is awsome with its form of human compassion that is truely rare.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it. It was full of heartwarming truth and a powerful bond between two speices that could not speak directly to each other. There was intense moments when the language made me raise my eyebrows, but overall....it was awesome.
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Did i.
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k_j_9_7 More than 1 year ago
This is a really good book! I love how Ben does so much for the chimp he wanted nothing to do with when first brought home. Ben really develops as a character. It's a story you HAVEN'T read before. Very original concept and the author carries it through well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I read it last year in school with my class, and we couldnt put it down! Totally wrth the money.
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Caitlyn Dillman More than 1 year ago
This i an awessme book and it made me laugh and cry through out the whole book. I recomend reading it, and this story is not the only one of its kind. This happens in real life.
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