Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Middle Grade Review: The One and Only Ivan 

Title: The One and Only Ivan 
Author:  Katherine Applegate
Publisher:  Harper, 2012. 305 pages.
Source: Library

Ivan the gorilla lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall, a sort of odd cross between a zoo and a mall, and he's lived there so long he almost thinks it's normal. Until, that is, Ruby the baby elephant arrives and reminds him of all he's tried to forget.

Okay, there's no denying this is a good book. It won the Newbery Medal in 2013. It's moving, and brilliantly done, and makes us see and feel what Ivan sees and feels. I think the style of writing and the format (it's laid out with each page a separate chapter, almost like a journal entry, and each sentence it's own paragraph) gives it a bit of a feeling of otherness, or the recording of thoughts. 

And yet (I'd better prepare to duck here): it didn't really move me that much, and I kept wondering what the point was, besides a lesson about cruelty to animals. I'm almost wondering if I should read it again to see what I missed, but I don't think so. I get the message, and I'll even go so far as to say we could extrapolate to thinking about man's inhumanity to man. But as a story, it felt thin. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for something with more poetry than plot. I also had a problem with a book that is both trying to be realistic on one level and yet depicts decidedly anthropomorphic animals. I get it: we are being reminded that the animals, especially ones like gorillas and elephants, in fact have feelings, and I don't doubt that they do. But I was put off by their conversations, and for some reason especially by the cynical speech of Bob the stray dog. It was just a little to human and knowing.

In spite of my reaction, I think this is a good book, and worth reading. Its message is important and clear, without totally beating us over the head with it. I suspect it would make a very good read-aloud, though it might be hard for younger children to cope with the cruel realities it depicts in places.
Full Disclosure: I checked  The One and Only Ivan  out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. Oh, I'm so interested in what you have to say about this book Rebecca! I read this one a while ago and I thought overall it was a good book. I remember having many emotional reactions as I was reading it and being totally invested in the story. But almost as soon as I was done, I thought, "meh, that was forgettable". It just didn't resonate overall and it didn't leave much of an impression. The writing was superb though and like I said, I was totally into the story as I was reading it. Very strange mix for me! Anyways, thanks for linking your review in the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

    1. Okay, that's weird. My reply vanished instead of posting. I wanted to say that Renee nailed it--the book seems when reading it like there is more to it than there turns out to be.

  2. I LOVE this book and recommend it almost every time I'm in the kids' section at the book store. SO much about it to love and want to share :)

    1. And that's why I think I'm just turning into a curmudgeon! Really, I wanted and expected to react like you. Imagine my surprise. I don't know. I've done a lot of kid lit lately. I think I need a course of adult books to reset my grump-o-meter!

  3. The book cover is absolutely beautiful! I have not had the chance to read this one, but with so many mixed reviews my interest is piqued. I will have to check it out. Thanks for sharing this book on the hop.


We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.