one and only ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is the gorilla that is part of the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  The big billboard outside the mall shows Ivan as a ferocious beast, but he’s really a very easygoing guy.  He doesn’t remember anything about his life before he came to live with humans.  He was raised in Mack’s house as long as he was little and cute, but when he got bigger he was put into his domain: a glassed-in room.  He watches TV, lots of Westerns, and hangs out with his friends: an old elephant named Stella and a stray dog named Bob.  He also does art, scribbles that Mack sells in the mall gift shop.  Things change at the circus as money gets tighter until Mack purchases a baby elephant for the Big Top.  Ruby has been taken from her family and is full of lots of questions.  She makes Ivan look at his small, enclosed world more closely and inspires him to make promises that he will probably never be able to keep. 

I read this book in one long gulp, unable to get Ivan and his tiny, limited world out of my head.  The book is written from Ivan’s point of view, one that is distinctly gorilla and wonderfully familiar and foreign at the same time.  Applegate manages to give us a taste of being animal while never imbuing Ivan with human sensibilities, yet he is entirely relatable for readers.

The use of art to bridge the language gap between humans and gorillas is equally effective.  Ivan’s ruminations about art and how to capture taste and feel on paper is lovely.  Ivan’s world may be small and enclosed, but through art and his relationships with others, it grows larger and larger. 

This is a book that captivates.  It is compelling readers, bubbling with humor, yet addresses issues that are deep and complex.  It is a book that is memorable, rich and simply marvelous.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.