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The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Posted on May 7, 2012 by in 4 stars, Book Reviews | 1 comment

The One and Only Ivan

Author:  Katherine Applegate
Format:  Hardcover
Release Date:  January 17, 2012
Dates Read:  May 5, 2012

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

This book was obtained freely through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

I requested this book for review from LibraryThing because I was a big fan of the Animorphs series, penned by Applegate as K. A. Applegate, when I was young.  I had never read anything other than these books by her before, so I didn’t really know what to expect.  I did suspect, however, that I would like it.  I was right.  I am very glad that my receipt of the novel was only delayed and not cancelled, because it would have been a shame to miss this one.  The One and Only Ivan is a wonderfully written, feel-good novel.  It is a novel written from the perspective of a gorilla named Ivan.  For years, he has been a feature of the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  He has lived in his domain making quiet observations about the humans that come to stare at him through the glass panes.  He doesn’t think about his old life in the jungle.  That’s the key to living in his existence — his twin sister couldn’t let the jungle life go, and died as a result.  There are no other gorillas at Exit 8.  His only friends are an elephant named Stella and a skinny, stray dog named Bob.  When a new elephant baby named Ruby is brought in to help salvage the business, Ivan is torn between his seeming inability to make any headway with the humans and fulfilling his promise to secure Ruby a better life.

If there was ever any doubt that a children’s novel could make an adult tear up, The One and Only Ivan dispenses with this notion.  I don’t even like monkeys, and am not particularly fond of gorillas either.  But the talent of the author’s storytelling overrides my original biases.  Applegate is so wonderful at writing from Ivan’s perspective — taking an outsider’s probable observations of humans and putting them to paper in a way that is simple, yet poignant and often funny, charming, and sometimes alarmingly resonant.  The messages of this novel are much like that of a well-crafted Disney movie or something of the like that is widely held to be enjoyable by children and adults alike.  The content is simple and whimsical enough for children to enjoy, but the lessons about humans and their differing treatment of animals is serious enough to give adults something to consider when they are done reading.

I highly recommend this novel.  Applegate has proven, once and again, that she is a talented author.  Even if you don’t particularly like gorillas, don’t let that stop you.  The One and Only Ivan is a novel that transcends the characters; it is a story of humanity and the thoughts and feelings of animals that we are often too quick to ignore.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

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1 Comment

  1. Great post, really enjoyed it!
    — Grant

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