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Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

Half Brother (2010)

by Kenneth Oppel

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4613132,023 (4)12
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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
This is a wonderful book I picked up for my son. He was unhappy with his personal choice book and wanted to switch, so off to the library we went. While I normally go right for the Newberry prize winners, the cover caught my eye and I read the blurb. There was no going back from there and it took me a few minutes to convince my son this was the one he wanted to read. He wandered around and looked at Zen and the Art of Faking it, and then After Ever After, but they looked like the reading lexile was much lower. The librarian could not help me, which was surprising. My son read all the blurbs and decided this was a good pick; he started reading it right there. When we got home, he had to finish a poster, so I read it. I am a very quick reader and love to read everything my kids read. It helps to have shared interests and we like to discuss the books.
Told from the first-person perspective, a family of scientists adopt a baby chimp, Zan, for experimental language studies in ASL and language acquisition. The son, Ben is asked to treat him like a brother and the baby chimpanzee learns many signs from him as they bond. Experiments don't always go according to plan and the family has to find a way to deal with the consequences of their actions and how the research trial will affect Zan's future. I would recommend this book for any adolescent boy. Ben's perspective on family, friends, school-life and girls is riveting. ( )
  Michelle_Wendt | Jun 15, 2016 |
Narrated by Daniel di Tomasso. *SPOILER* Ben's dad is working on a research project involving communicating with chimps. Thus, Zan the chimp comes to live with Ben's family. As the project advances, Ben comes to care about Zan like a baby brother. The project however, ends up not meeting standards and Zan must be released. Ben doesn't want to see Zan end up in a medical testing lab or worse, but his impassioned determination to defy his father and save Zan may make things worse. ( )
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
This book was very interesting has a good story line and it's kind of comedic also. ( )
  DeborahUnderwood | Oct 26, 2014 |
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.

HALF BROTHER is a young adult cover of the chimpanzee behavioural studies novelised by Colin McAdam in A BEAUTIFUL TRUTH and Karen Joy Fowler in WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES. Oppel's straightforward plotting and everyday language make this story an easy,engaging read not quickly forgotten. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of Ben's father's high-handed ways at home with his paternalistic arrogance in his research with chimpanzees. Oppel seems to be saying that there are families where dependent children, like animals,are treated like property. In this light the title becomes even more poignant: is Ben considered half-human by his father until he becomes an adult?

10 out of 10 for the cover!

8 out of 10 for the book. Highly recommended to all. ( )
  julie10reads | May 11, 2014 |
After being dragged across the country from Toronto to Victoria, Canada, Ben's thirteenth birthday isn't what one might call normal. You see, the reason he was dragged across the country arrives on that day—a tiny bundle of chimp they name Zan. Ben's parents are planning to experiment and study Zan by teaching him sign language to see if species other than humans can communicate with actual language. At first Ben wants nothing to do with the experiment and Zan, but gradually, as he signs with Zan, he begins to love him as he would an actual brother,—even if Ben's behavioral psychologist father sees Zan as only an experiment. But what will happen to Zan once the experiment ends?

I enjoyed this story. Ben really grows attached to Zan, loves him like a real brother, and it's truly touching to see what lengths Ben goes to in order to protect his little brother. Oppel also brings the serious issues of animal rights and ethical practices in working with animals to the table. This takes place in the 1970s, so there aren't as many concerns in Ben's or his parents' minds, or in the university's that funds the project, as there might be in today's world.

The secondary characters made the book for me. I loved Peter—a hippie-like dude who takes care of Zan in the best ways possible, and who can talk to Ben like an equal. Peter becomes a big ally for Ben, and a champion for getting what's best for Zan. It was also interesting to follow the relationship dynamics between Ben and both his parents. His dad tends to be jerkish and cold, but his mother is kind and gentle with both Ben and Zan, to the best of her ability.

I thought the whole Project Jennifer sideplot was hilarious. Ben has this huge crush on Jennifer, the daughter of his dad's boss, and so (in true scientist fashion) keeps a notebook he labels "Project Jennifer" and takes notes on her likes, dislikes, things he might say to her, etc.

I couldn't figure out it was taking place in the 1970s right away. It took me until after the first CD (or somewhere around there) to figure it out, from some sort of reference to the time. The beginning would have made a lot more sense to me had I known this from the start, since I was bothered by the fact that Ben's parents were just given a chimp like they were. I felt like no one thought about the potential dangers Zan would pose to his caretakers once he wasn't a baby anymore.

As for the audio, it wasn't that great. I felt like it was sloppily produced. It was clear at points that the actor had stopped recording one part and continued later, with a distinct vocal difference. At times it sounded like a different person talking, the difference was so pronounced. I didn't think di Tomasso put much emotion into the performance, and it fell flat as a result.

If the premise intrigues you, I would pick up a copy of Half Brother and read it; skip the audio version.

Disclosure: I got the audio version of this from my local library. ( )
  Tahleen | Feb 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
"... despite the inevitable warm fuzziness brought on by something as cute as a baby chimp, Half Brother turns out not to be your usual animal book. Oppel is rarely far away from reminding us that chimps are powerful creatures, often destructive, occasionally murderous." "Oppel is pleasingly unafraid to ask awkward questions, often right at the point where readers might have made up their minds. What a particular joy for a teenage reader, to be challenged rather than instructed. Parents might be surprised at the passionate discussions Half Brother ends up inspiring, along with a healthy new respect for our closest genetic cousins."
added by RBeffa | editThe Guardian, patrick Ness (Jan 22, 2011)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0545229251, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:04 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In 1973, when a renowned Canadian behavioral psychologist pursues his latest research project--an experiment to determine whether chimpanzees can acquire advanced language skills--he brings home a baby chimp named Zan and asks his thirteen-year-old son to treat Zan like a little brother.… (more)

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