Thursday, January 28, 2016

The One And Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate)

The One And Only Ivan
Katherine Applegate
Fiction, YA General Fiction
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: For over two decades, Ivan the gorilla has lived at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. It's a peaceful life, if sometimes a dull one, but he has his tire swing, his TV, and his art, plus the steady stream of "slimy chimps" who visit daily. He also has his friends: Stella the elephant, veteran of a circus until an injury sidelined her, and Bob the stray dog who sneaks into his cage each night, not to mention the human girl Julia, the only one to see the images in his "scribbles." Then Mack, owner and ringmaster of the Big Top, brings in the baby elephant Ruby. For the first time, Ivan sees his domain for the cage it is... but what can one gorilla hope to do about it?

REVIEW: I remember the tale of the real Ivan, a gorilla kept in a local circus-themed shopping mall for decades until shifting public attitudes and outcry got him the "retirement" he desperately needed. Applegate necessarily fictionalizes some elements here, not simply by giving Ivan a "voice," creating a deceptively simple tale of good intentions gone awry and humanity's blindness to the needs of our fellow creatures. But, then, humans aren't the only ones blinded by willful ignorance over what seemingly can't be changed. It's only by witnessing tragedy in others that Ivan realizes his own sadness, and determines to change at least one thing about his life. The characters all have hidden facets, even Mack, making what could've been a flat story into something much more poignant and nuanced. It reads fast, but invites rereading. Touching, often sad and occasionally frustrating, it nevertheless shows what can happen when just one person - human or animal - stops giving in to despair and apathy and dares to hope for something better.

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