cover image Half Brother

Half Brother

Kenneth Oppel, Scholastic Press, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-545-22925-8

Ben is less than thrilled that his 13th birthday includes moving across Canada and getting a new "half brother"—a baby chimpanzee named Zan that Ben's father, a behavioral psychologist, will be raising like a human to determine if chimps can learn sign language. Gradually, Ben comes around, learning more about Zan and chimps, but he still struggles with his social life in his new school, his parents' high expectations, and Zan's role in their lives—is he family or just an "animal test subject?" Eventually he becomes Zan's greatest advocate when the project—and Zan's life—are threatened. While Ben and his family initially anthropomorphize Zan, Oppel doesn't, and as Zan gets older and stronger, the characters (and readers) are able to see an honest portrait of chimpanzee behavior, from the very best to the most brutal. Set in 1973, Zan's story echoes that of real chimpanzee studies of the era, though Oppel (the Airborn series) avoids dry factual recitations, or proselytizing when animal activism is introduced. Oppel's story is filled with compassion and has no easy answers. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)