Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
I just recommended Kenneth Oppel’s new children’s book, Half Brother, to my 86 year-old grandmother. It is that good.
I knew it must be good when I heard that Violet got in trouble at school for reading too much. At home I was envious of her complete absorption in the book, but also excited because I knew I would get to read it next. I asked her, “Is it ‘Hunger-Games-Good’?” She just grunted and waved me off. “Violet if you don’t answer me I’m going to take the book away.” She looked up at me and said, “Oh yeah, it’s good. Can I just please read to the end of this chapter?”
Later she told me she loved it because it made her feel like she was the main character, thirteen year-old Ben. When I got my turn, I felt the same way. Now I’m curious if my grandmother will feel likewise. Any book that can make a ten-year old girl, a forty-year old mother, and an eighty-six-year old great-grandmother feel like a thirteen year-old boy is impressive.
There are stories that are compelling, and there are books that are insightful and complex. Half Brother is a masterpiece that combines the best of both. A page-turner for sure, we are dropped into a world of being new in junior high school while having a stormy relationship with a driven father. Just the thought of it makes most grown-ups cringe. Add on top of that the complexity of developing a close bond with a species so near to our own, but still clearly animal – and you have one of the best children’s books I have ever read.
I would not recommend this book to children younger than ten years old. The complexity of relationships might be harder for younger children to grasp, and there are some sexual references. The sexual references are not explicit, and they are appropriate to what a thirteen year-old boy would say and experience but some parents might be uncomfortable with younger children reading them. This is one of those books that would be a pleasure to read so you can judge for yourself.