Monday, October 3, 2011

Half Brother Review

Book talk: Ben's father can talk anyone into anything.  He even made a cross-country road trip to their new house sound like fun.  But a few days in he ran out of things to talk about and Ben was left bored, staring out the window as the countryside passed in a blur.  Now Ben's dad is trying to convince him that the baby chimpanzee his mom brought home is his brother.  He says it's an important part of their research to treat him like a part of their family while they try to teach him sign language.  Babysitting is no fun when your little brother is a mischievous chimp.  Ben learns a lot from him, though.  Like how to act like an alpha male to become popular in his new school, and how to study Jennifer's behavior to get her to like him.  Eventually Ben fins himself convinced once again and grows to love his half brother Zan.  But when his parents' experiment turns sour and his father says that Zan is really just a test subject after all, Ben refuses to be convinced and for the first time in his life he decides to fight back, no matter the cost.

Rocks my socks: Full disclosure: I am a sucker for this type of story.  My favorite animal is the gorilla and I have been fascinated by the great apes ever since my 4th grade class did a unit on Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey, and Birute Galdikas.  That said, I truly believe that even if I wasn't predisposed to like this novel I would have loved it anyway.  Watching Ben and Zan's relationship develop is touching as it goes from resentment to a vague feeling of concern for his well-being to his confession that "I wasn't good at a lot of things...But I was good at loving Zan." At the end the issue of animal experimentation comes up but it never gets preachy.  Some tough questions are posed and no easy answers are given.  Zan is an extremely sympathetic character, but these kinds of experiments did take place and based on all I've read of them his behavior is realistic for a chimpanzee. Oppel weaves the question of what it means to be a person throughout the book from the consequences of trying to make chimpanzees act like humans to consequences of treating humans like chimpanzees as Ben tries to imitate an alpha male to fit in at his new school and keeps a logbook on his crush because he believes "If I could teach a chimp sign language, I could probably teach Jennifer Godwin to fall for me." Oppel also mirrors the relationship between Ben and his father and Zan and Ben's father cleverly and describes how Ben begins to over identify with Zan and feel like a test subject himself so that when his father rejects Zan, Ben feels rejected as well.  When Ben reaches the point where he looks back and realizes how when he thought everything was going well it was really heading for disaster I couldn't help but remember times when I had been through the same thing.  By the end, while I naturally felt sorry for Zan and his fate I was just as concerned about the effect that had on Ben.  Which is really saying something for for me because I normally care far more about the fate of the animals than the humans in these stories (By the end of the Chaos Walking trilogy I was so sick of animals sacrificing themselves for the protagonists that I no longer cared about their fate and if anything wished ill upon them.)  I picked up this book to read about a chimpanzee, but what kept me turning the pages all night ended up being the human interest story.

Rocks in my socks: The only thing I wish was different about this book is the publication date.  I would have gone absolutely crazy for this when I was in school.

Every book its reader: The premise of this book makes it an easy sell for animal lovers and they will certainly enjoy it, but I think anyone looking for a good realistic fiction story about what it's like to be thirteen will enjoy it as well.  Pre-teens and teens will be able to relate to it best so I'd give it to 6th grade and up.

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

Buy it or check it out today!

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