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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Fantastic!, Oct. 2 2010
Nicola Mansfield (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Half Brother (Hardcover)
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 taken with it. It's a far cry from my usual reading fare as well and I found it fascinating. Ben's father is a scientist and his mother also, though she is still writing her PhD dissertation. The father has a Project where he is to bring a baby chimp into the household and along with a staff of his students raise the chimp as a human, all the while seeing if they can teach the chimp, Zan, to learn American Sign Language and fully communicate with them. At first Ben's not so crazy about Zan, after all they had to move from Toronto to B.C. for his father to work at this new University, but it doesn't take long until Ben and Zan are bosom buddies and more than that, brothers in a real sense.

But the Project isn't proceeding fast enough, they are denied the big grant they expected, the University wants more results and soon Ben is fighting for Zan's place in their family and he must risk it all to save Zan from a future worse than death.

An incredibly intriguing story. The characters themselves add such tension to the story, the family dynamics shape the conflicts. The dad is stoically scientific, even towards his own son, emotions are not one of his good points, though we pick up clues as to what shaped this man. The mother, though also scientific, is naturally maternal, has a great relationship with her son, and her maternalism flows over to baby Zan. Ben, is thirteen when the story starts and has a whole other side story going on about school, friends and girls (especially). This is also a coming-of-age story for him and there is one particularly interesting thing about his and Zan's development. Zan obviously becomes humanized, mimics the humans and considers himself human but we also see in some ways that Zan's natural chimp behaviour is brushing off on Ben, who has been reading a lot about chimps since Zan's arrival. While Ben plays Alpha-male at school to win friends, popularity and girls, it isn't until an instant when he becomes furiously angry with his father that we see Ben turn chimp.

This story is full of humorous escapades created by Zan and others' reactions to him. But this is also a serious story that deals with the ethical treatment of animals. Right from the beginning of the book there are a couple of hints that the story is not taking place in the here and now and eventually we learn that Zan's story is taking place some 30 years in the past. This opens up a world of science that did not have the same ethics as we do today when it comes to using animals in experiments. Oppel does not go all "activist" on us but instead introduces the reader to various practices going on at the time and the scientific reasoning behind the ethics of such experimentation. Then he shows the various types and forms of protest to this treatment and with that goes further to say it was not all in the name of science (make-up testing for example).

A well-written, gripping, thought-provoking story, possibly Oppel's greatest book to date. This story may well have some of it's targeted readers looking into animal related careers where they will have a voice in ensuring the ongoing ethical treatment of animals. Myself, after reading this, I feel like sitting down and watching the movie "Gorillas in the Mist" again.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too, Sept. 11 2010
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.

Reviewed by: Sally Kruger, aka "Readingjunky"
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight, Sept. 25 2010
Steven R. McEvoy "MCWPP" (Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Half Brother (Hardcover)
I have enjoyed the 13 books by Kenneth Oppel that I read before reading this one. But I approached the premise of this one with a bit of hesitation; I should have known better. With each book of Oppel's that I read, I become more and more impressed with his skill, talent and range of creativity. Ben Tomlin is an average teenager; he struggles with some anger issues, but his parents uproot him from his home in Toronto and move him to Victoria so his father can start a new experiment.

The experiment was a little different. They were going to raise a chimpanzee as if he were part of the family. Soon Ben has a younger brother named Zan. They are going to raise him as if he is human and teach him American Sign Language. Zan is learning at an amazing speed - he is averaging two new signs a week and soon he is combining them by himself. Helping with project Zan gives Ben an idea and he starts project Jennifer. Jennifer is the girl of his dreams and he will do whatever research he needs to win her over. Soon everything starts falling in place. Things are going well with Jennifer, project Zan is getting a lot of press. But then things take a turn for the worse; Zan gets some bad press and Ben's dad seems to be giving up on the project.

Soon Ben feels like Zan is really his little brother and cannot imagine his life without him. But in science, if a project does not go well, it is sometimes terminated. Ben is now willing to risk everything for Zan whom he once resented. Told from Ben's perspective, the story is believable and incredibly addictive. I stayed up really late reading it when I should have gone to bed early. I just could not put it down. Oppel has written a story about adoption, family, relationships and coming of age. It is an amazing book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book!, July 23 2012
This review is from: Half Brother (Paperback)
Half brother is honestly one of the best books i have ever read. The story is one that may actually happen in real life.
It is a very sad book, as i cried half way through it. While reading it you gain an attachment to the Chimp, Zan who is adopted by a human family as a science project to see if chimps can learn human sign language and use it effectively. it is a heart-breaking story that you will never forget. i would highly recommend this book to anyone!
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Half Brother
Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel (Paperback - Sept. 13 2011)
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