It has taken me far too long to eventually pick this book up and read it but now that I have I will be beating my chest like the fabulous silverback gorilla and roaring about it to anyone and everyone. The One and Only Ivan is a beautifully written and moving story - have tissues near by - of finding friendship in the loneliest of places, of standing up for what you deserve and of having the strength to find hope and happiness in the bleakest of situations.
The Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade is where silverback gorilla Ivan calls home, along with his best friends ageing elephant Stella and stray dog Bob. Ivan has grown accustomed to staring through the glass window, painting pictures that mall-owner Mack sells in the shop to keep the business running and watching TV, he is a particular fan of western movies. Life inside his domain is sad but it all seems worryingly normal, a life in the jungle a distant memory.
Then Ruby arrives, a baby elephant with much clearer memories of her life of freedom and she wants Ivan to see their situation for what it really is. With a promise to fulfil to Stella, Ivan sets about bringing change and a better life for them both…
Ohhhhh Ivan, he and his friends will break your heart, pick up the pieces and carefully put it back together again. Inspired by true events, Katherine Applegate’s story of a gorilla who lives in a cage at a shopping mall is something vey special where the hopeless must become the hopeful, the rescued must become the rescuer.
Heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure, Ivan and his friends relentlessly tug at the heart strings as they are subjected to the best and worst of the human race. Whilst mall owner Mack shows no particular malice towards Ivan, who he raised from a baby, he lacks the knowledge and means to properly care for him. A fully grown gorilla is a very different challenge from the young one that he used to take in his convertible to the fast-food restaurant and to baseball games. Luckily for Ivan, there is a human that understands him, Julia, and their shared passion of art allows them to connect in a special way. Captive animals Like Ivan cannot escape from captivity on their own, they need strong humans who not only understand them but are also willing to fight for them and Julia and her father George, who cleans the mall, are on hand to help the bid for freedom.
Told from the gorilla’s point of view, the heroic and courageous Ivan narrates his story with intelligence, humour, feeling and often comes across as more human than gorilla, twenty seven-years in captivity with no contact with other primates will have this effect. I’ve often wondered what animals would say if they could talk to us and Applegate expertly imagines the thoughts and emotions that are going through Ivan’s head. Delivered in short and sharp bursts, the verse-like chapters had me laughing along with Ivan one minute and then feeling every bit of his sorrow the next.
At times this can be a difficult read, Applegate does not shy away from the realities that animals, both in the wild and in captivity, face from cruel humans. This is important, children care about these issues, they want to help and young activists will be inspired to take action, who knows, Ivan’s story may ignite a desire to be the next Jane Goodall. In the very least, the animal welfare issues that are raised will generate valuable discussions and increase empathy towards and a better understanding of poorly treated animals.
A beautifully written story.
Recommended for 8+.