Author: Catherine Applegate
First Published: January 1st, 2012
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.
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.
I'll try to make this as straight to the point as possible, because, in all honesty, this is a really short book: out of all the Middle-Grade novels I've read this year, The One and Only Ivan probably fits best the Children's Literature tag. Don't let yourselves be fooled by the 252 pages this *in reality* novella has, if you are willing to give it two full hours of your life, you can finish it before even realising that you started. Big font, big spaces, pages with only a few sentences on them. This pretty much summarizes the way this is printed. But you aren't here to hear that, are you? So let's move on to what really interests you: the review.
Plot: As far as the plot goes, the summary does a pretty good job out of telling it all. If you expect twists and turns, a few arms being fired, some movie-like action scenes, or hell, I don't know, dancing penguins, you are going to be deceptioned, my friend. Pretty much, this is exactly what it looks like. A baby elephant arrives at this permanent wanna-be circus and its sad existence triggers all sorts of memories and feelings in the long-time star of the almost-gone-bankrupt establishment. There are a few sad things along the way, some stories told, some almost-forgotten memories revisited, a somehow ingenious plan, and like that, bam!, you're at the end. I'd like to say, for no reason in particular, that I expected another development for this story. Honestly, before reading it, I had this idea about how they were going to get out of their cages and make it all the way to the jungle, while followed by an angry boss and some some equaly determined hunters. Yep, I have a hyperactive imagination.
Characters: I said it before and I'm going to say it again, children books do have the best characters. They are all so different and, in this particular case, they embody pretty varied human types. And yes, I'm including here the animal-band, too. Firstly, there's Ivan, who reaminds me somehow of a grandpa. He adapted to this new life, can't really remember a great deal of his previous one, but still looks at it like at some kind of golden age. And, *even if I don't think a kid would do all this overanalyzing that I'm doing* I do believe he just repressed his memories because it hurt too much to deal with them. Pretty human behaviour, if you ask me. We also have Stella, an adult elephant who doesn't want little baby Ruby to have the same kind of unfulfilling, painful existence she had. Bob the dog *ha, it rhymes* , who's the fighter type, the loner, the one who doesn't want to get overly attached because it would only bring him heartache at the end of the day. And Ruby, the baby, the little elephant, the new star, the one who puts everything in motion. Ruby is a kid, basically. She has all the right questions without even realising it, she can be annoying or thoughtfull, she can give up or be full of love, and she masters that balance between bravery and cowardice that every kid seems to have. There are also some human characters, like Julia, the maintenance man daughter and the one who keeps Ivan's passion for ar alive, and Mack, the boss, who is the perfect exemple of an imperfect human being. He has his moments of powerful humanity and of unnecessary cruelty, and that just makes him real.
Personal opinion: This story deals a lot with cruelty toward animals and how important is for them to remain or at least be reintegrated in their own environment. I especially liked the idea of a gorilla-narrator. It allows you, as a reader, to walk a few miles in his shoes, and understand all his confusion regarding his own self, all his hopes, and fears, and feeling. It's great to read Ivan's thoughts about humans, seeing how much they influenced the course of his life and still, how calmly he studies them. It's really interesting, really touching. This entire story is heartwarming. It's about friendship, and the importance of promises, and wanting someone's happiness in spite of you own unhappiness. About selflessness, and feeling weak and not having control over your own life. And, the most important thing, I think, it's about becoming what you were meant to be by using the means allowed by what you have already become. You know those quotes authors choose to be written on the first page of their books? Like a motto? Katherine Applegate just chose the perfect George Eliot passage: "It's never to late to be what you might have been."
Favorite quote: "Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say."
Recommandation: Read this book. If you love animals, read this book. If you love good simple stories, read this book. If you want a bed-time story for your 8 years old, read him this book. Honestly, just read this book. You'll probably like it, because it touches the heart. And if you end up feeling like you wasted your time, I'm sorry. But read it anyway.