Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Thursday, May 24, 2012

Plot Summary:
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 he has ever met. As time goes by, Ben's reluctance to be with the chimp wanes and when he names the baby, Zan (after Tarzan), all of his hesitation and heart melts. Ben has become to center of Zan's world and the closer they get, the more the Chimp progresses. In fact, the experiment goes so well that he and his family end up in People Magazine and the become the town celebrities. Life couldn't get any better for Ben because he befriends the children of the University Dean and his social profile is solid and he is good friends with the TA that is hired to help with Zan's education. However, things take a turn for the worse when the University, and critics, start questioning the validity of the experiment that leads to a treacherous journey for both Zan and Ben.


Critical Evaluation:
 Half Brother is an incredibly compelling story about a relationship between an animal and human. At the time of this story, the works of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey were blossoming as well as the issue of animal testing in the 1970's. Moreover, this story is also about the pursuit of scientific knowledge and what its limitations are. Amidst this historic significance, is a story about a teenager who is just trying to find his place in the world. Despite being uprooted from his home, Ben has to start all over again and that is not easy. Another issue is having is living up to his father's expectations, which lands him in a school that is way above his abilities. The thing is that Ben is a normal teen who wants to live a normal life and have a normal family. Unfortunately, Ben is the child of two brilliant scientists who are embarking on a scientific feat, which is teach language to a primate. Although chimps are able to grasp the American Sign Language (thanks to the work of Allen and Beatrix Gardner), the Tomlin's want to take this concept farther which requires them to integrate this baby into human life. I can completely understand Ben's hesitance because it's not normal to integrate a wild animal into human family. Not only is it confusing for the baby, it's difficult for the family especially when the animal tendencies come out (i.e., Zan biting off another TA's finger and fits). Although the goal of this experiment is noble (to bridge the gap between humans and primates) it is also cruel (Zan's learning chair). Ben cannot help fall in love with Zan because Zan is a part of him, which makes it hard when the University threatens to close down the project. Moreover, the more he learns about the controversy of animal testing, Ben panics and does something so incredibly dumb, but admirable, readers cannot help but cheer him on. This is a beautiful story between to beings who have nothing but unconditional love and trust between each other.

Information about the Author:
In his website:
I was born 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 and sorcery tales (my Dungeons and Dragons phase) and then, during the summer holiday when I was fourteen, started on a humorous story about a boy addicted to video games (written, of course, during my video game phase). It turned out to be quite a long story, really a short novel, and I rewrote it the next summer. We had a family friend who knew Roald Dahl - one of my favourite authors - and this friend offered to show Dahl my story. I was paralysed with excitement. I never heard back from Roald Dahl directly, but he read my story, and liked it enough to pass on to his own literary agent. I got a letter from them, saying they wanted to take me on, and try to sell my story. And they did.
Oppel wrote his first novel, Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure, in 1985, and received his BA from the University of Toronto. While in school he wrote his second novel, The Live-Forever Machine, and when he graduated he got married and went to Oxford, England where his wife was getting her doctoral in Shakespearean studies. He has three children and currently live in Canada. Half Brother has won the Canadian Children's Library Association Award as well as the Young Adult Book Award.


Genre:
Teen Historical Fiction

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 8 &up

Books Similar to Half Brother:
 Awards & Recognition:
  • Canadian Children's Library Association Winner
  • Canadian Young Adult Award Winner
  • Starred Review School Library Journal (9/1/2010)

{ 1 comments... read them below or add one }

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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