The One and Only Ivan
By Katherine Applegate
For a children’s book, inhabiting the world of animals can be a dicey proposition. While the appeal is broad, it seems like the rate of true success is comparatively small. Must be that whole “trying to authentically convey the thoughts and actions of a completely different species” thing. But when it works, animal fiction has a way of endearing itself to readers in a uniquely lasting way. The One and Only Ivan is this sort of book. A fine piece of storytelling with well-realized characters that packs an emotional punch.
Ivan is a silverback gorilla, and he is far from his true home. Through first-person (or rather, ape) perspective, Ivan shows the reader his world. Brought out of Africa by hunters and bought to act as the main attraction at an open air mall, Ivan whiles away his days in a plexiglass and concrete cell watching tv, painting, and interacting with the other “attractions” at The Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. When a young elephant, Ruby, comes to the Mall it snaps Ivan out of his malaise. The gorilla makes a promise – to take care of the young elephant by getting her into a Zoo. A difficult feat to imagine from a tiny cell.
The voice of Ivan sets this book apart. While the style resembles a novel-in-verse, that label doesn’t quite fit. Applegate has described her approach of leaving a lot of space as reflecting Ivan’s spare voice and isolation. Stoic, concise, and honest, I think this works perfectly for the character. If The One and Only Ivan ends up with Newbery recognition this year (and it will definitely be in the discussion), it will be Ivan’s voice that carries it there.
Tackling themes of mortality and compassion, all while remaining an accessible and satisfying, this is a book that will stick with readers. A true success.
Review copy from the publisher.
Watch The One and Only Ivan book trailer:
(Thanks to Watch. Connect. Read. for the link)