Saturday, June 15, 2013

The One and Only Ivan (Book Review)

Title: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publication Information: Harper, hardcover, 2012 – Newbery Medal 2013
Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Plot: Ivan, a Silverback gorilla, has lived for years in a cage the Exit 8 Big Top mall and video arcade. His only friends are Stella, a tired elephant; Bob, a quirky homeless dog; and Julia, whose father cleans the arcade and Ivan’s cage at night.  Ivan is mostly resigned to his lot and, encouraged by Julia, entertains himself by drawing.  When customers stop coming to the Big Top, owner Mack purchases a baby elephant, Ruby, to pull in the crowds.   When Stella realizes she can’t protect Ruby, she makes it clear to Ivan it’s up to him to make sure Ruby doesn’t die in captivity.

What I liked
: I certainly don’t know what a gorilla’s voice sounds like but Applegate did an amazing job making me forget anything but Ivan’s story.  It is understated and sad, but charming at the same time.  Ivan has blotted out his memories (of a happy childhood) so as to endure captivity and has a hard time coming up with a story for the baby elephant, Ruby, but he is the type of resolute character who doesn’t let his friends down.  However, Bob, the dog named by the insightful Julia, had more personality, and I am glad he had a happy ending.  I was very aware of all the dreadful ways this book could have ended, and was grateful to be spared.  I was also struck by the way Ivan revealed his real name was Mud, and it reminded me of how slaves sometimes had their own names but their owners called them whatever they felt like.

What I disliked: I am not a big fan of animal stories, so this was not my kind of book although I did enjoy it.  I probably would have picked Wonder, which I thought was really exceptional, had I been judging the Newbery Awards.  However, I did not read all the contenders and neither one is the type of book I loved as a child or teen.
Newbery Awards: For a complete list, click hereThe Hero and the Crown (1985) and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968) are probably my two favorite winners.  Nowadays, Robin McKinley might be considered YA; a Printz candidate instead.  And where is that next Damar book, anyway?
Source: I bought Ivan last month for my nephews but it might be too sad for them!
(photo is of a Silverback gorilla but is not the real Ivan that the book was inspired by)


Charlotte said...

I don't generally leap to pick up animal stories myself, and for some reason I have never liked gorillas in I liked it more than I expected I would!

My 10 year old (who might be the same age as at least one of your nephews) had to read it for school, and though he is a very sensitive reader, he did not think it was too sad.

allonymbooks said...

I found your great list of Downton-esque book suggestions and wondered if you are interested in reviewing a YA Downton-meets-The-Luxe novel? Can I point you to The Strattons at
and then if you would like a review copy for your kindle or other e-reader, please let me know and I will send you a copy. Thanks!