Reviews for Half Brother
School Library Journal
Oppel has taken a fascinating subject and molded it into a top-notch read. Deftly integrating family dynamics, animal-rights issues, and the painful lessons of growing up, Half Brother draws readers in from the beginning and doesn't let go. The carefully crafted characters will be an easy connection for teens and the interpretation of the animal-testing controversies of the 1970s will provide an alternate viewpoint for animal-book lovers. (starred review)
Oppel tackles a timely topic: what defines a family? Is it humans, actions, language? Readers will identify with Ben's coming-of-age story and the unique ways he deals with situations all teens face. Ben is a wonderfully developed character, his witty imagination a product of a time when rec rooms, pinball, and BB guns were accessories in life. Half Brother is highly recommended for all young adult collections. While it may not appeal to all teens, those who do read it will be rewarded with a funny and exceptional story they won't soon forget. 5Q 4P J S
The Bookseller (UK)
Kenneth Oppel's standalone novel for young adults, HALF BROTHER, is a compulsively readable, extraordinarily gripping and moving book. Thirteen-year-old Ben's world is turned upside down when his research scientist parents adopt a newborn chimp into the family to raise as a human child in an experiment to see if they can teach it to communicate using language. This is a meticulously researched book and the development of the experiment is very absorbing, but it's Oppel's ability to realise the complexity of Ben's emotions towards his ‘half brother' which makes it a triumph.
Oppel's award-winning ability to write through the eyes of a very believable and relatable character holds true in this novel – mature preteens and teens will relate to Ben, his family and friends. They will cheer when Zan makes his first sign, and they will root for Ben when he falls for the beautiful sister of a new friend. But, what sets this novel apart from other compelling stories, and Oppel's other works, is the fresh perspective it has on the themes of humanity, family, and choice. Readers will be challenged to think about right and wrong, choice and apathy, nature and nurture, and, love and betrayal. (4/4 stars Highly Recommended.)
Oppel beautifully grounds larger philosophical questions about the deep, mysterious bonds and boundaries between humans and animals with Ben's coming-of-age concerns, including his first crush (whom he studies using scientific methods) and his acute awareness of family tensions, all narrated in his authentic voice. A moving, original novel that readers will want to ponder and discuss. Grades 7-10
Kenneth Oppel has once again created a riveting and thought-provoking tale in his new book, Half Brother….It is impossible to put the book down. The dilemmas presented in the book are provocative, timely and thoughtful. The issues give great depth, but Half Brother is by no means just an "issues" book. Fans of Oppel's previous works will sigh with relief that they have another great story to sink their teeth into (which is not a comment on one of Zan's bad habits). Fast-paced, comic and moving, Half Brother is ultimately as satisfying as having a conversation with Zan.
Globe and Mail
Half Brother is fast-moving, engagingly told and smart…. Beyond Ben's unique preoccupation with Zan, Oppel takes pains to give his protagonist more typically adolescent concerns…. Ultimately, this novel is about much more than an abandoned experiment in interspecies communication. Through Ben, Oppel gracefully underscores the true value in reaching Zan: Not to profit from teaching him to perform tasks, but to grasp the world as a non-human perceives it.
While Ben and his family initially anthropomorphize Zan, Oppel doesn't, and as Zan gets older and stronger, the characters (and readers) are able to see an honest portrait of chimpanzee behavior, from the very best to the most brutal. Set in 1973, Zan's story echoes that of real chimpanzee studies of the era, though Oppel avoids dry factual recitations, or proselytizing when animal activism is introduced. Oppel's story is filled with compassion and has no easy answers.
Set in the simpler time of the early '70s, this well-plotted novel weaves together themes of animal rights, family issues and the cost of animal research. The normal teen problems in Ben's life ground the book nicely and prevent it from feeling entirely issue-driven. There are no easy answers, just a thoughtful portrayal of real people grappling with tough questions.
The ever reliable Ken Oppel does not fail with this excellent new YA offering.This is a wonderful piece of fiction, which should attract both male and female readers, young adult and adult alike. It addresses issues that resonate with all ages, while maintaining an adventurous plot line. Definitely a winner!
The central thrust of the plot explores not only what separates humans from animals but also the ethics of using animals for our benefit, while subplots explore typical adolescent concerns: fitting in at a new school, making new friends, and experiencing a first crush. The relationship between Ben and Zan remains the lynchpin of the novel… the ethical and moral dilemmas the book presents are provocative.
Quill & Quire
Part science lesson, part animal rights crusade, part morality tale, part coming of age story, Half Brother contains everything young readers could want: a teenage protagonist, an intriguing story, multiple plot twists, and even a cuddly baby chimp. Half Brother poses some thorny ethical questions. What makes a living being a “person”? Is it right to use animals in human experiments? What is language, and can a common understanding make humans and animals equals? Even as it entertains, Half Brother leaves readers with plenty to consider about the way humans behave toward the many species that share our planet.
Toronto 's Kenneth Oppel, who set this story in 1973-75, has created a thought-provoking tale that deals not only with the stuff of sibling rivalry, fitting in, teenage sexual awareness and coming of age, but also with such complicated issues as animal rights vs. scientific study. It's a testament to Oppel's talents as a writer that he has worked these elements into an engaging story, parts of which will tug on the reader's heartstrings and may necessitate a Kleenex or two.
I fell in love with Ben, a budding primatologist stuck in junior high. I ate up the all-too-real family dynamics. I adored the tangled scientific and moral questions. But mostly I fell for a great story. Half Brother broke my heart and I was happy to let it.
The book is about which relationships matter. Ben's dad is a cold guy who treats Zan like the object of an experiment, not a living creature, which infuriates Ben. He already wonders what's more important to his father, the project or his own son. Ben's also trying to fit into a ritzy private school where he's making some not very smart decisions about how to make friends with the cool kids. Oppel's plainly done a whack of research on primates and their abilities, and the animal rights twist in the tale gives it real urgency. A very engaging read – and not for young adults only.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's
A haunting, thoughtful exploration of animal experimentation, the connections between humans and animals, and what it means to be an individual. Readers will be relieved that Ben persists in finding Zan a suitable home, even as they mourn the losses both suffer because of his parents' decisions. And long after they've forgotten Ben's lame parents or the shag carpeting, readers may be pushed to consider their own relationships with animals, and whether the lines between pet, possession, and meat are blurrier than they expected.