The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

A few days ago I finished reading ‘The One and Only Ivan’, by Katherine Applegate, and it is a wonderful book. Ivan is a gorilla who lives in his domain in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall, he is the only gorilla in the mall. For company he has Stella, an elephant; Bob, a stray dog; Mack, his keeper; George, the cleaner; and Julia, George’s daughter, a child and an artist.

Ivan has buried his childhood memories, though he has a stuffed toy called Tag named after his sister, and is generally content to eat, paint, watch TV, and sleep. The mall is on hard times, and Ivan remembers when he had many more visitors. One day a baby elephant arrives, bought from a zoo, her name is Ruby.

With the arrival of Ruby the story shifts in momentum, the melancholy life of Ivan and Stella interrupted. As Stella falls sick, a quiet gnawing worry about the life of Ruby grows within them. In telling Ruby stories Ivan remembers, and with the guidance of Stella he comes to understand that his domain is a cage. They dream of a brighter future for Ruby…

The One and Only Ivan is a beautiful story. Like Ivan’s artworks, it is told in brushstrokes and daubed paint. A glimpse through a window, a moment and a memory.  The relationships between Ivan, Stella, Bob and Julia, and as the book progresses Ruby, are wonderfully sketched. It is a haunting book, and a loving one. A book that is full of emotion, bursting with promise and hope. It is sad, and it is also uplifting.

Winner of the Newbery Medal and a number of other accolades, The One and Only Ivan is a book well worth reading. It will take you down a sad and poignant road, but hope shines throughout like a beacon.