The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:

Creative, artistically drawn story that is also deeply flawed. The hook is amazing: first-person narrator is a silverback who’s the main attraction at the top of a mall)… but the pacing of the book is definitely a bit off. The beginning (though interesting) is far too drawn out, not sure what the middle really is, and the end feels both too rushed and also somehow, not necessarily drawn out enough. The characters are interesting and the story is definitely a moving one. Parts of the writing are wonderful… but again, the story as a whole is weighted down by its flaws, keeping it from being a truly 5-star read.

Greater Detail:

This book has a great premise and a wonderful cast of characters: we’ve got Ivan, our silverback, who spends much of the book refusing to remember his past (it’s tragic, of course, and comes back to him, of course). There’s Bob, the mangy stray dog, Stella, the older elephant who remembers everything and always tells the truth (though she sometimes mixes up the facts). A cleaning/janitor with talented young daughter, and of course, a baby elephant whose entry into the story gives it a purpose for moving forward and finally getting us out of the introductory land.

The story is also ¬†interesting — a trapped silverback and his companions. They are made to be entertainment. They should hate humans (they’ve done some terrible things to the animals and their families, after all) but at the same time, the humans also provide comfort, snacks… a tv that helps passes the time.

Yet it’s weighted down, in many ways, by the language. Which is a bit ironic as it’s what drew me in. The first few lines, “I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks.” I thought, were wonderful. But after a while, some of this weightier observations, that seemed so amusing initially, seem to just slow down the natural progress of the story, and made me stop and say, huh? (why is this like rotten meat with a hint of papaya, what does that mean? etc) It certainly might have been my mood, and I can admit that much of it was well written and entertaining… but with large swathes of… nothing’s happening, nothing’s happening, nothing’s happening, interesting observation, very gorilla-point-of-view, oh, again, nothing’s happening.

I think it’s a worthwhile read, for adults and maybe middle grade kids… but… it just felt like it had potential to be so much better!

Comparison to Other Books/Authors:

I’ve just now re-delving into the middle grade and YA type of work. I think this is really classified as middle grade, though it’s really a weightier read than what I remember. It’s got nice fantasy elements and occasional flashes of humor. I’m really not sure what to compare it to though… I would say this is on the tougher end of middle grade works in terms of content/thought-provoking-ness, but right in the middle of the spectrum in terms of vocabulary, etc.

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