Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Half Brother

Half Brother

Fall 2010 Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
Author: Kenneth Oppel
ISBN: 9780545229258
Hardcover Price: $17.99

Fiction writers are expected to draw engaging characters, give them interesting conflicts, and then resolve them in a way that resonates without seeming contrived. It's not easy, but Kenneth Oppel does it handily in Half Brother. 13-year-old narrator Ben Tomlin has a new baby brother -- a week-old chimpanzee named "Zan." Ben's parents are research scientists and his father has been hired to lead a project to determine whether chimpanzees can communicate in a human language.

The story is set in the early 70s when real-life high-profile experiments of this kind were going on. Oppel's research is impeccable. He captures the time and place in both the science world and social one. He also sneaks in a primer on the two prominent and competing camps of linguistic theory: Chomsky vs. Skinner. Yes, that sounds heavy for a young adult book, but it succeeds in Oppel's hands.

The Tomlins treat "Zan" like a family member. They work play and socialize as a family, but this becomes complicated. To Ben, "Zan" really is a brother, at times. He's also very clearly a test subject, with a team of college-aged science students observing and recording him. There many great themes in this book, which explores the line between science and humanity, what constitutes family, and the ethics of using animals for scientific research, to name a few. Readers also learn that working as a professional scientist is often labored and frustrating, just like high school Biology class.

It's the human element, though, that moves the story along in this very well-written book that will engage its readers' minds and hearts.

Teresa DiFalco   ©2010 Parents' Choice
Teresa DiFalco is an award-winning ghostwriter, writer, and mother in Vancouver, Washington. She's been a contributing editor for Parents' Choice for over ten years. She's a strong speller, a menace at badminton, and makes a decent soufflé.

Look for this product at:
Scholastic Inc./ Hardcovers 1

Share This