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Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel - Review by Saul, Teen Blogger

Language was at one point considered what separated us from other animals; this was until in the seventies when there were trials that indicated that chimps could in fact be taught sign language to some degree. The book Half Brother looks at a fictional version of one of these trials and all the implications it creates about ourselves and the lives of animals. We see the story revolve around Ben, a thirteen-year-old boy living with his parents, and Zan, a newborn chimp that attempts to learn American Sign Language.

Oppel has created a great piece of writing on what it means to be human, the morality of animal testing, and how far we are willing to go to reach our goals. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought it carried a great message with it. This most impressive thing was how this message was displayed from a multitude of different viewpoints. No single opinion was focused on, instead the author laid out the facts and the various perspectives. From there a multitude of different conclusions were drawn, while at the same time leaving the reader open to their own interpretation. Perhaps the best thing was that all of this was wrapped up in an exciting story.

The protagonist in the book is Ben, and the story focusses a lot on his relationship with Zan. The emotional connection they have feels very real and well written. Ben is an extremely dynamic character, growing and changing as the plot continues. He is someone the reader can really connect with as a person and understand how he feels.

Perhaps the largest downside to Half Brother is its unnecessary romantic subplot that weaves itself into the main story every now and then. It is not that these sections are not well written, they are, but the whole thing seems rather uninteresting when compared to the suspenseful and emotional main plotline. It feels almost as though it is there to pad the pages out and distracts from the other, far more impressive parts of the book.

The main plotline however is extremely good. It is a very well-paced adventure with a good mixture of highs and lows. There are moments of happiness brought out due to the moments of great sadness. Certainly one of the strongest points is how real and emotional the story feels.

I think this book is good for anyone who wants a heartwarming story about a boy and his chimp, but also for people looking for something that will question morality and human nature. Half Brother certainly does both. It is very well written and something I enjoyed reading.


Teen Blogger


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