Book Discussion – Half Brother

Author: Kenneth Oppel

Genre: Young Adult

Pages: 377

Publisher: Harper Collins

I give this book 5 stars out of 5, without hesitation. 



Ben Tomlin’s parents are scientists, and when they bring home a baby chimpanzee, Zan, their goal is to conduct an experiment—to see if the chimp can learn human sign language. But soon, Ben will start considering Zan as his little brother.

Then I looked over at baby Zan, all swaddled in his basinet, and thought:

We are the weirdest family in the world.

-Half Brother, Kenneth Oppel


My Thoughts

This novel is truly thought-provoking. Without ever forcing his opinions on us, the author makes us reflect on the morality of scientific experiments on animals. Zan is raised as a human child, and so he’s convinced he’s a human child. But what happens when the experiment is over? He cannot live among humans forever, but he would also never survive in the wild.

The writing is funny, and simple, and sometimes just heart wrenching. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it, but I think it was the perfect ending for this novel. I kept wondering how this would end and (spoiler to come) oh my god that scene when Zan saves Ben’s life by breaking his hand I was like WHAT BUT THERE ARE JUST A FEW PAGES LEFT HOW CAN THIS POSSIBLY END WELL?

And yet.

Okay, spoiler-free, now.

But the dictionary said you had to be human to be a person.
Maybe the dictionary was wrong.

Half Brother, Kenneth Oppel

It was so interesting to ‘watch’ Zan grow up in such an environment and learn the signs so quickly. It really makes me want to read more about the real stories that inspired this novel: Project Nim and Project Washoe. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, though. I would definitely not be able to be part of such an experiment because I grow attached to animals crazy fast (even this fictional one; I was in love the very first time he’s introduced) and the idea of using them and pretending to be a family just breaks my heart. And then getting rid of them? I could NEVER say good-bye. (Really, I cried every time Ben said good-bye to Zan, and that’s in a piece of fiction so imagine real life, I’d be a mess.)

But anyways, that’s what I thought! Now I want to hear you guys!

If you haven’t read it, I really hope this post makes you want to pick it up one day! And if you’ve read it, I’d really love to hear what you thought in the comments!

What did you think of the experiment?

Did you consider Zan to be Ben’s brother?

What did you think of the father’s decisions? (I’ll say it, I hated the Dad
most of the time. How cold-hearted he could be …)

Did you have a favourite character? (Peter was definitely mine!)

Thanks for reading everyone!

6 thoughts on “Book Discussion – Half Brother

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