Review Blog

Dec 23 2010

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

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David Fickling Books, 2011.
(Age 13+) Highly Recommended. It's always a treat to discover a new author and even more exciting to find that they are a prodigious talent you've somehow missed - all those previously published novels to look forward to!
From Half Brother's first page I knew I was in safe hands; Kenneth Oppel is a virtuoso who sails his readers expertly through the choppy waters of an exciting, thought provoking and moving story.
Set in Canada during the early 1970s, Ben's parents are scientists and as part of a university experiment they adopt a chimp to see if they can teach him American Sign Language. Zan joins the family when he is just a few weeks old and, like every new baby, turns the family's lives upside down. Ben's initial uncertainty at sharing his home with a chimp turns into acceptance and then love as Ben realises that Zan has become his brother. At first Project Zan is a huge success and Zan learns to sign. Their ability to communicate with each other simply strengthens the bond between Ben and Zan.
Unfortunately, a year later the project is under threat and Zan must go and live in a compound where he is at risk of being sent to a laboratory. However, the bond between brothers is strong and Ben will risk everything in his desire to protect his brother. To complicate things even further, Ben also embarks on his first love affair and Project Zan runs hand in hand with Project Jennifer - his own private scheme to secure the girl of his dreams. But can you manage a love affair the way you organise a science project?
This is an outstanding novel which is never didactic but will make readers think. With consummate skill Oppel combines the day to day life of school, friendships and family with overarching themes that concern us all - the meaning of life, the ethics of humanising animals, the debate about animal experiments and Ben's own tricky relationship with his father.
With touches of humour and raw emotion this is a sure winner for those who demand a story they can get their teeth into. I'm now off to get my hands on everything else Oppel has written!
Claire Larson

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