Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Book Review Club (November 2015)

It's the first Wednesday in November (November?! Already!?) and time for a meeting of our monthly Book Review Club. A little trivia: November comes from the Latin "novem" meaning "nine" because November was the ninth month in the ancient 10-month Roman calendar. When January and February were added in 713 BC, November kept its name. Similar story for December. Could be useful trivia at a holiday party? Onward!
by Kenneth Oppel (young adult)

Kenneth Oppel is a prolific Canadian writer. By prolific, I mean he's written close to 30 books. We're talking picture, middle grade, young adult, and even a little adult fiction. He wrote his first novel, Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure, while in high school. He wrote his second, The Live-Forever Machine, while a student at the University of Toronto.  In 2004, his young-adult novel, Airborn, won the Michael L. Printz Award and the Governor General's Award. His Silverwing trilogy has sold over a million copies. Uh, wow! Just wow!

And now that you're all properly impressed, let's talk a little about Oppel's young adult novel, Half Brother.

In a nutshell: It's 1973, and a few really big changes take place in the life of only child, 13 year-old Ben Tomlin. His parents move him across country from Toronto to Victoria. He has to get used to a new school and new friends. On top of that, his mother brings home from Africa a newborn chimp. His behavioral-science parents want to raise the chimp, Zan, as a member of the family and teach him American Sign Language. It's all part of an experiment to see if Zan can acquire language.

What I Loved: The author draws heavily on similar kinds of chimpanzee language experiments from the 1970s. Think Nim and Washoe. There was a lot going on the book. Ben falls for a girl, makes new friends (not all appropriate), struggles in school. Zan matures, learns signs, grows stronger. The funding for the experiment is pulled, and decisions about Zan's future are up in the air.

In the Final Analysis: This is a book about relationships, especially family relationships and what constitutes a family. Also, as you can imagine, it raises questions about the ethics of animal experiments. Readers will get caught up in rooting for Ben and Zan.

-Here's a link to the author's website: Kenneth Oppel
-Here's a YouTube link to a short book trailer: Half Brother
-Here's a link to a short interview with the author talking about his inspiration for Half Brother and for the main character, Ben:  interview with Kenneth Oppel

Dear FCC: I actually forget where I bought this book. But I did pay for it, and it is mine. 

 And now....onto the rest of our reviews. Please click through. You won't want to miss a single one!

Beth Bonini of TRAC: THE MONTMARAY JOURNALS by Michelle Cooper (YA historical)

Rob Costello: SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS edited by April Genevieve Tucholke
                       (YA short story collection, horror)

Sarah Laurence: KISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb (YA, contemporary)

Stacy Nyikos: EVIL LIBRARIAN by Michelle Knudsen  (YA)

Ellen Booraem: THE BOOK OF SPECULATION by Erika Swyler (fantasy)

Jenn Jilks of Cottage Country: THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE by Samuel Shem
                                                  DYING TO LIVE by S. Derek Shelly (novella)

Linda McLaughlin: PEONY: A NOVEL OF CHINA by Pearl S. Buck

                                                  by Cecilia Williams and Paula White


Ray Potthoff: THE LAST HERO--A LIFE OF HENRY AARON by Howard Bryant (biography)

Sarah Laurence: H IS FOR HAWK by Helen Macdonald (nature memoir)

Note to Reviewers: Any errors (broken link, missed review, etc), just shoot me an email or leave a comment. Thank you so much for your reviews!


  1. The premise reminds me of Karen Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which I thought would make a better MG or YA, and Oppel's came first. I haven't read any of his books so I'll take a look at this one. I studied those signing chimps in college in Biological Anthropology. I'm intrigued.

    I've sent you an email with code to fix the broken link issue.

  2. I remember those experiments with chimps; sounds like a fascinating YA book, Barrie.

  3. Hey Barrie,
    When I was in Victoria in September, I was browsing in a bookshop -- specifically looking for Canadian YA authors. I feel like I have a vague awareness of Oppel, but I definitely haven't read his work -- nor did I have any idea he was so prolific! This books sounds like a perfect match for my daughter, who is about to study veterinary medicine. She had to take the BMAT this morning and she said that there was an essay about animal ethics (specifically, treating animals like humans) on the test. (Am I the only person thinking "Christmas present idea" at the moment?)

  4. This does sound intriguing, and I bet my local librarian would think so too. She's always looking for non-fantasy middle-grade and ya. (Most of my suggestions to her are fantasy. Go figure.)

    I love the idea of marrying the chimp experiment with the everyday trials of a teenager.

    Anyway, thanks for the tip, Barrie! And thanks for hosting the review club.

  5. What a great premise. I just marked this as To Read on Goodreads, so I don't forget about it.

    So, important question: How many boxes of tissue will I need to buy with this book? :)

  6. Ooh, this sounds good! Last year, I listened to We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which has a similar theme about animal experiments with chimps and apes. It was amazing, too. Pulled hard at my heart. I can't wait to check this one out!

  7. I love Kenneth Oppel and I have to read this book! Thanks so much for the wonderful review. It sounds amazing!

  8. This sounds fascinating, Barrie. I'll add it to the wish list for my soon-to-be 15-year-old great nephew.


  9. Interesting review. For a minute I thought the parents brought home Zan for personal reasons but it sounds like it was - at least initially - business-inspired. I'm not a fan of conducting experiments on animals but I do like the family aspect of the story. I'll be checking this one out. Thanks for the review. :)

  10. Interesting premise indeed. I'll definitely keep it in Mind.....:)

  11. Thanks for hosting, Barrie. Love your FB stories, too, about your kids!


Comments are always welcome!