Book Reviews

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Illustrated by Patricia Castelao

Image via Goodreads
Image via Goodreads

Genre: Children’s Fiction (Middle Grade)
Rating: 5/5
Recommend to Others?: Yes
Favorite Quote: “But even though I draw the same things over and over again, I never get bored with my art. When I’m drawing, that’s all I think about. I don’t think about where I am, about yesterday or tomorrow. I just move my crayons across the paper. Humans don’t always seem to recognize what I’ve drawn…That’s all right. I’m not drawing for them. I’m drawing for me.”

My Summary:
Ivan is a silverback gorilla, the main attraction at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He has lived most of his life in captivity. But with the arrival of a new attraction, a young elephant named Ruby, Ivan begins to question his existence and how he can prevent Ruby from succumbing to the terrible fate that is captivity.


My Review:
The One and Only Ivan surprised me. It reads like a lyrical diary but the tone and simplicity of each chapter shows that Ivan is an intelligent gorilla, as intelligent as a human (if not more, in his opinion). Anything Ivan points out, describes, compares and contrasts comes off as wise and/or humorous. A very quick read, The One and Only Ivan is a fun read for all.

At first, I felt indifferent to the book but I liked that the set up/format was different from the normal. I wasn’t really sure what the overall point of the book was supposed to be. When Ruby shows up was when my interest started to take off and continued to grow from there. I was enraptured and curious about what would happen next and how Ivan would save/protect Ruby.

The thing that surprised me the most was how many feelings I felt (especially towards the end). I don’t remember ever reading a middle grade book that was so emotional. It seemed so well masked but directly there. Katherine Applegate has crafted such a stunning book that I immediately recommended it to one of my friends as soon as I finished it.

The language is simple and detailed with a lot of meaning hidden beneath. The writing doesn’t waste time with useless details or words (“Humans love their words” (195) as Ivan points out repeatedly) and keeps the story moving forward.

Middle grade aged readers can relate to Ivan because at their age they are beginning to establish their identity. As Ivan tells Ruby a story about his time with Mack and Helen, he states, “But many days I forget what I am supposed to be. Am I a human? Am I a gorilla? Humans have so many words, more than they truly need. Still, they have no name for what I am” (143). At their present age (in Ivan’s present), this particular age group is beginning to question their existence – who they are and where they are. They examine their past and all they’ve experienced and crave to be something/someone that is truly who they are at their core. The search for identity is scary and takes time but it’s a journey that must be taken.

3 replies on “Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Illustrated by Patricia Castelao”

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