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Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Book Review- The one and only Ivan | The Bookish Elf

Title: The One and Only IvanBook Review- The one and only Ivan | The Bookish Elf

Author: Katherine Applegate

Genre: Children’s Literature (not really)

First Publication: 2012

Language: English

Setting Place: Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade & Zoo Atlanta

Major Characters: Ivan (Narrator, a Silverback Gorilla), Bob (Stray Dog), Stella (Elephant), Ruby (Baby Elephant), Mack (Mall Owner), George (Cleaner at the Mall) and Julia (George’s Daughter)

Themes: courage, friendship, perseverance, hope

Narrator: Narrated by Ivan, the silverback gorilla in first person


Book Summary: The One and Only Ivan

True to the caption on the cover that reads “A story of courage, friendship and an unlikely animal hero”, The One and Only Ivan is the story of a silverback gorilla named Ivan, his friendship with other animals at the mall where they’re confined in glassed domains, his journey from being a victim to becoming a victor. And how he gives his best to keep up the promise he’s made to Stella, the Elephant.

Winner of the 2013 Newberry MedalThe One and Only Ivan is inspired by the true story of Ivan, who was kept in captivity for 27 years at The World Famous B&I Circus Store, Tacoma, and later moved to Zoo Atlanta. To sum it up, this narrative is a work of fiction but its plot takes inspiration from true incidents of Ivan’s life.

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Book Review: The One and Only Ivan 

Before I begin the review on The One and Only Ivan, let me set the record straight. From the school of thought I hail from, there are no children’s books. Especially, you can’t bracket them to a certain age group; unless it’s an alphabet book, elementary math or better still – book on potty training. So, I would say, there are mostly books for children of all ages. You choose your book according to how you assess your age; be it at heart or as per the paperwork. This book would definitely fit into the category – book for children of all ages.

The book opens with George Eliot’s quote “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”  well, you may already be aware that George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, an English Novelist. As per her, she used a male name so that her work is taken seriously, and breaks the stereotype that women’s writing was limited to light-hearted love stories. Maybe, this was the author’s attempt to draw a parallel with our protagonist Ivan who is known by many names. Ranging from Freeway Gorilla, The Ape at Exit 8, The One and Only Ivan to Mighty Silverback, people have given him several names.

“Memories are precious … they help tell us who we are.”

Contrary to the ferocious gorilla that’s painted on the billboard outside to attract visitors, he’s patient and easy-going. Not the stereotypical “King Kong”, which the visitors perceive him to be. Eventually, you will get to know the name given to Ivan by his parents when he was part of the band and the reason behind it. In one instance, he goes on to state that “Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.” How true?!

The narrative from Ivan’s angle is simple yet profound. Unlike humans, he doesn’t waste words like banana peel. In fact, each chapter with mostly a brief title covers a day’s account and doesn’t go beyond 2 to 3 pages.  That said, there’s more to each instance than what you read. The observations from a primate’s perspective makes the read all the more insightful and thought-provoking.  Catherine Applegate knows to paint the reader’s imagination with simple words. More so, like deriving kaleidoscopic shades using primary colors.

“Her eyes are like Stella’s, black and long-lashed, bottomless lakes fringed by tall grass.”

“He goes back to work. His mop moves across the empty food court like a giant brush, painting a picture no one will ever see.”

From start to finish, each character has a role to play in keeping the pace of the story going. Stella’s recollection of her time at the circus and stories of yore leave you speechless. Julia’s love for painting, which she shares with Ivan makes you optimistic. Business-minded Mack’s shrewdness to run the mall, yet his veiled kindness throws light on the grey shade of humanity. Ruby’s innocence and stubbornness that turns Ivan into a storyteller and Primate Picasso, makes you feel hope does not disappoint. Not to forget the stray dog, who ingeniously has made Ivan’s domain as his abode (and Ivan’s tummy as his bed), adds sensible humor making you yearn for a best friend like Bob. Now if you still feel that this is a book for children; then maybe, you should ignore this novel and stay true to the age in the paperwork.

P.S. : Go ahead and grab a copy of The One and Only Ivan before its movie arrives to a cinema near you.

Review by Amit Charles

Buy Now: One and Only Ivan by Kathrine Applegate

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