Sunday, September 5, 2010

HALF BROTHER by Kenneth Oppel

Ben can't believe he is being forced into becoming part of his father's latest science experiment.  Being the only son of a college professor/research scientist hasn't really bothered Ben, but things have suddenly changed.  First of all, the family has moved clear across Canada so he will be getting used to a new home, new school, and a whole new group of friends.  The other big change is that he is about to become a brother.  Well, sort of...

Dr. Tomlin is beginning a research experiment to prove that chimpanzees can learn to communicate with humans.  He and his wife will be working together to raise a baby chimp as part of their family and attempt to teach the chimp to communicate using ASL - American Sign Language.  As part of the family, their son Ben will be expected to treat the chimp as a younger sibling and help in the teaching process.

Ben thinks the idea is crazy.  Yes, the chimp is cute and cuddly, but it's a chimp not a human.  Why does he have to participate in this wild experiment?  Much to his surprise, it doesn't take long for him to bond with the little chimp and become just as excited as his parents when the little guy begins to catch on to the whole communication experience.

The chimp is christened Zan, and he quickly becomes part of the family.  Ben's life starts changing at a fairly rapid pace.  As news of Zan begins to spread, Ben's popularity at his new school soars.  Everyone is interested in watching Zan and hearing about his crazy antics.  Ben and his parents are busy night and day helping the chimp assimilate to his new surroundings.  So busy, in fact, that Ben's father hires multiple graduate students to help care for Zan and record the endless videos and written notes necessary to chart the chimp's progress.  Ben's life is a whirlwind of activity. 

HALF BROTHER by author Kenneth Oppel is set in 1973, at a time when chimpanzee experiments dominated the science world.  He deftly combines the fascinating results of animal studies with the daily life of a teenage boy.  As the chimp grows and learns to interact with humans, so does Ben as he finds his place in new surroundings and as a maturing teenager.  The complexities of the research study and the growing emotional attachment of raising Zan, make HALF BROTHER a novel that will have readers laughing and cheering one minute and gasping in horror the next.  Prepare to be entertained but also touched by emotion and regret.

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