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Half Brother


Half Brother

Thirteen-year-old Ben Tomlin isn’t so sure about his father’s latest experiment. A well-known behavioral scientist, Dr. Tomlin has whisked the family away to a new university in a new city to pursue a new scientific study, which means lots of change for Ben. Not only will he have to go to a new school and try to make new friends, he also will have to deal with the newest addition to the family: a baby chimpanzee. His father is trying to discover whether or not chimpanzees can learn sign language, and the best way is for the baby chimp to be raised like a human.

The Tomlins decide to name the chimp Zan, and Ben is immediately skeptical. Zan doesn’t like to wear diapers, makes loud hooting noises, and bites if he gets upset. He climbs all over Ben and likes to destroy anything and everything in sight. Zan is unlike any baby brother Ben has ever seen. He acts like, well, a monkey. But Zan loves Ben, and Ben slowly starts to warm up to him. Ben teaches Zan his first word and quickly becomes his favorite. Suddenly, Zan is no longer an experiment or even a chimp. Zan is Ben’s half brother.

After learning more about Zan, Ben begins to take on some of his traits. He decides that he wants to be the dominant male in his new school. His confidence grows, as does his popularity, especially among the teenage girls. Although he may be the dominant male at school, Ben consistently has run-ins with the dominant male at home --- his father. Dr. Tomlin is upset over Ben’s low grades and his indifference towards school. He’s also worried about Ben’s growing attachment with Zan. Ben doesn’t understand why his father only thinks of Zan as an experiment and not a member of the family. And Ben is devastated to learn that the money is running out on his father’s little experiment.

Now Ben must face an impossible truth. Zan is a chimpanzee, nothing more and nothing less. He belongs with other chimpanzees and may never learn to be fluent in sign language. It’s time for Ben to give up Zan, but is he willing to surrender the only brother he’s ever known?

There’s no doubt that people love their pets and treat them like a member of the family. They dress them up, give them regular food, and routinely let them sleep in their beds. Sometimes they talk to their dog or cat as though they were really listening and understanding every word being spoken. What if they could talk back? Would that change the relationship? Kenneth Oppel reexamines the concept of family in HALF BROTHER and explores the relationships and love we have for the people and animals we care about the most. Ben and Zan have a special connection that anyone can relate to, and it’s one you won’t forget.


Reviewed by Benjamin Boche on October 18, 2011

Half Brother
by Kenneth Oppel