Everyone always dreams of getting their first real pet. Not a goldfish or a hamster, but something larger, like a cat or a dog or a dinosaur. In Kenneth Oppel’s new book Half Brother, Ben Tomlin’s family finally gains a furry new addition. However, his new pet turns out to be a baby chimpanzee. To further complicate matters, Ben is told by his parents to treat this new addition as a little brother. His father is a well known behavioral scientist, and needs Zan, the chimp, to help him study chimps so that he can assess whether or not they can acquire advanced language skills.
Ben never objects to the idea of Zan joining the family, and pretty soon boy and chimp have bonded and interact just like real brother would. The true problems start when some of the students working on the research project, as well as Ben’s dad, do not believe in treating Zan like a creature worthy of respect. For a chimp who they are trying to teach sign language and how to be human, their actions towards him scream animal experiment. Ben starts questioning their treatment of his little brother, and starts doubting the project in which Zan and he are a part. When Zan gets sent to another university where the lead scientist is meaner and more extreme in his methods, what will Ben do to ensure that his brother is safe? How far will he and his few trusted allies go to make sure that Zan doesn’t end up as another lab animal to be experimented on?
This is a book that is full of drama and serious decisions, as well as some much needed humor when Ben starts applying animal behaviors to human interactions. Reading about him becoming alpha male and establishing his dominance at his new school is funny and eye opening all at once. It also makes one question what it is to be a person, and makes you wonder about our relationships with members of the animal kingdom. The author’s portrayal of animal research and of the thoughts and feelings of those involved is realistic as well as thought provoking. This highly readable and daring book is available now at the Tucker Free Library, for the low low cost of nothing. Find out for yourself what will happen in this epic tale of teen and chimp versus the world.