Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

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.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is a book EVERYONE should read.  It’s that simple.  Through the story of the gorilla Ivan, his human and animal companions, and the baby elephant he feels compelled to protect, Katherine Applegate tells a moving tale that illuminates animals, humans, and art.

Applegate writes in a very spare style, with short paragraphs separated by ample white space, that works perfectly for this story.  She’s crafted a unique and apt voice for Ivan, who tells us that “humans waste words” while gorillas do not.

Though there aren’t a lot of words in Ivan’s story, the ones he chooses are stunning, especially the imagery: a seal whose “voice was like the throaty bark of a seal chained outside on a cold night” and an elephant with eyes “black and long-lashed, bottomless lakes fringed by tall grass.”

The characterization in this novel is also great—the animals and humans have distinctive, vibrant personalities, and nothing’s black and white.  Even the “villain” of the story elicits a lot of sympathy from the reader.

As for the plot, I found myself racing through, nearly desperate to find out what happens to Ivan and Ruby and Bob…and without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the ending was very satisfying.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is a book that doesn’t take long to read, but it will definitely stick with you.  I highly recommend it!


  1. Heya! I'm a brand new follower! :) I won this book from a giveaway on Goodreads a while ago, and I can't wait to read it, especially after reading your review. :D