Saturday, 26 October 2013
Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Publication Date:January 17th, 2012
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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.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he's seen and about his friends, Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
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 was hesitant to start another book so soon after Allegiant. It has left me with a huge hangover where my head is still stuck constantly thinking (and possibly crying) about it. So needless to say it wouldn't be fair of me to start another book, my heart wouldn't be in. I wouldn't be absorbing the story. I'd probably not have any idea what's actually going on. But I didn't want to get into a reading slump, so I decided on a middle-grade book. And picking up The One and Only Ivan turned out to be a good thing. It's a quick read that doesn't require so much attention. The story and message this book contains speaks for itself and with the way I'm feeling right now it took even deeper meaning with me than if I wasn't so mopey.
This book is told from Ivan's POV. He's a gorilla. Yup, that's what I thought too, this could get interesting. And it is. Applegate based her book on a news story from a few years ago about a gorilla starting out as someone’s "pet". Having the book from Ivan's POV was the only way this story could have been told with meaning. His views of what's happening to him and going on around him hit harder this way than if it was a bystander to Ivan's situation.
Ivan is 27 and only spent a very tiny portion of his life out of captivity. He started out living in Macks (his owner) house and when he got too big for there was moved to a cage at a mall circus. Ivan views his cage as his domain because he doesn't know any better. That is until Ruby, a baby elephant, comes into his life. And then he starts to realize this is not where he belongs or any animal belongs. They belong to their own kind.
All the other animals present in this book have not had a good life. From Bob the stray dog. To Stella another elephant who has spent her entire life in a circus and now suffers from a very infected foot. And then Ruby who was taken from her family in Africa and shipped to America to be another circus animal. It's one very sad story.
But it's the way the animals talk to each other and voice their opinions on their world that keeps it from getting unbearably sad. I got caught up in the story and how right they all were about humanity that it distracted me from any major feels.
I've seen people say that this is too sad to be a middle-grade book. But I disagree. It only works as a middle-grade book. For one you've got Ivan, his voice is very straight and to the point. He's a gorilla. He makes it easy to understand what's happening. Also, kids are very perceptive. They know the difference between right and wrong. We have to give them more credit to know that how these animals are being treated is not in fact right. Animals are living creatures too. What gives someone the right to keep them locked up for 30 years? There are very good lessons and meanings a child can take from this book. And that's why reading this together with them and then discussing the issues is important. You're increasing their awareness on an important subject matter.
As mentioned before, it's the animals take on humanity that I found the most interesting. And as an older reader, I'm sure most would agree. Bob the dog sees humans as pretty bad people. He is not surprised when they do something mean. He always expects the worse from them. And at the end is genuinely surprised when they actually help Ivan and Ruby out. Ivan can see the both good and bad in people. He doesn't understand why they do some of the things they do. Stella has to constantly remind him that this isn't where he belongs. His cage is not his domain, it is a cage. He deserves better. And just like Ivan sees, there are both bad humans like Mack and good humans like George (the janitor) and Julia (his daughter) in the book. Ivan is an artist, he draws on paper what he sees and Julia helps him out. As she is an artist too. The relationship between them is endearing.
As it is a middle-grade book, there is, of course, a happy ending. Which is what I needed and another reason why I picked it up. I knew I wouldn't be disappointed.
I love this book. The message it delivers. And the story itself. It will be one I read again.