Sally’s Rating: 4/5
Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan addresses the issue of animal rights through the lifelong journey of a gorilla who ends up living in captivity at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Mixing both humor and heartbreak, this simple tale touches on how all animals just want a place they can call home.
This was an easy read. The paragraphs are short and sweet, emulating the somewhat dense thoughts of an easy-going gorilla. Throughout the novel, Ivan slowly changes from a gorilla who has accepted his fate and only thinks of how he wants to play with paints and crayons to a fleshed out character who must think up an escape plan to help the young elephant who is being abused in the cage next to him. His slow realization of how trapped he truly is builds up throughout the novel as he interacts with a variety of human and animal characters.
The wise old elephant Stella gives Ivan some sage advice as Bob, the stray dog, acts as his eyes in the real world. Yet the most interesting relationship in the novel is the one between the up-and-coming artistic gorilla and the young daughter of the janitor, Julia, who draws pictures of all the animals she sees at Big Top Mall. Neither character can communicate verbally with the other, but their connection over their love of art creates a caring relationship that any person with a loveable pet can sympathize with.
The One and Only Ivan can be quite dark at times, addressing animal abuse and Ivan’s own memories of the poachers who had captured him in the wild. Yet the animal characters’ situation showcases both the worst and the best of humanity with the book arriving at a suitable but bittersweet ending.
There is nothing too unpredictable that happens throughout Ivan’s adventure. It ends how one would expect, but the author is able to infuse the depressing tone with some much needed charm, humor and sweetness. I would heartily recommend The One and Only Ivan to animal lovers everywhere, regardless of age, who want a brief, touching story of the compassion, hope and love that transcends both the human and animal world.