Sometimes I like to take a step back from adult fiction and venture into the heartwarming world of children’s literature. I have had my eye on The One and Only Ivan for some time now, and a recent lazy day felt like the perfect day to give it a try. I’m so glad I did.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is absolutely adorable and sends such a poignant message about friendship, loss, and kindness. The narrator of the book is Ivan, a gorilla who was captured as a baby and bought by a man named Mack. Mack operates a circus-themed mini-mall where Ivan draws in customers, along with a small number of other animals, including an elephant named Stella. Ivan is incredibly articulate and thoughtful, and he has a passion for art. When Mack buys a baby elephant named Ruby, Ivan fights to remember his past and has to figure out a way to communicate an incredibly important message to Julie, the night janitor’s daughter.
The One and Only Ivan provides a truly unique narrator with Ivan. Katherine Applegate never lets readers forget that Ivan is a gorilla, no matter how intelligent and well-spoken he may be, but she still gives him the personality he needs to make readers connect with him on a still-very-human level. His confusion about certain objects and human behaviors provides a bit of comic relief to the book, and his interactions with other animals and the humans he sees allow you to see the depth of his soul. I can guarantee that I will never look at a gorilla the same again.
Throughout the book, Ivan also makes incredibly insightful observations that provide readers with priceless lessons in subtle, but still meaningful, ways. Those lessons cover everything from animal abuse and financial struggles to flirting and keeping promises. I was surprised by the way the idea of animal captivity was treated, but I felt that it was handled very well, and the ending of this book was absolute perfection.
If you get a chance, make your acquaintance with Ivan and his friends. You will be absolutely heartbroken (at times) and delighted and reminded that good people…and good animals…are everywhere, if you just look for them.