Quick Book Review: Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

Half Brother by Kenneth OppelThis book I first heard about on Jackie of Farm Lane Book’s blog. It seemed a fun YA book for my son (14). He read it  and liked it and then I got curious about the book, so I read it myself, too.

Ben is thirteen years old and moves with his parents half-way across the country so they can work on a new project at a university. His father is a behavioral scientist and wants to find out whether chimpanzees can learn language. So a baby chimp comes to live at their house and they start teaching it sign language.

At first, Ben doesn’t like the idea of the experiment and refuses to be involved with Zan, the chimp. But soon he starts to get close to Zan and considers him his little brother. While trying to make friends at his new school and the neighborhood, some children find him interesting because of Zan while others ridicule him about living with a chimp. The media stops by to take pictures of Zan and Ben is happy to show them what Zan can do.

But then Zan starts to grow into a proper chimpanzee and although he is raised by humans, he still is an animal. It becomes hard for the family to keep him. Eventually, Ben is the only one who wants to keep Zan and he tries several ways so Zan can continue to stay with the family.

Although I never quite warmed to Zan, I warmed to Ben’s feelings for Zan. I wanted Ben to be able to keep Zan although at the same time, I knew that wasn’t an option.

The story takes place in the 1970s when using sign language on chimpanzees hadn’t been done yet. Oppel doesn’t use as much research material in the book as he could have, making this an easy and light read. One obvious flaw in the experiment was that the parents and Ben didn’t use sign language amongst themselves, whereas in normal families children watch parents and older siblings talk to each other and learn that way, too.

The book touches on a lot of topics, including fitting in as a teenager, family life, and animal experimentation.

A fun book, not just for Young Adults, but for adult just the same.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Number of pages: 378

First published: 2011

Genre: contemporary fiction

About Judith
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com and bookhelpline.nl. We edit books and articles for independent writers.

4 Responses to Quick Book Review: Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

  1. I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed this one. It isn’t the deepest book in the world, but it is a quick, fun read. Now you should read the other Half Brother book – that Norwegian epic is so much more satisfying 🙂

  2. bibliosue says:

    Is it suitable for not-quite teenagers do you think? My niece is 10 and it sounds like something she might like and that I could read along with her.

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