Ivan is a gorilla at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. His domain is a cage with a tire swing, a pool of dirty water and a wall painted to resemble a jungle with a waterfall. His main friends are Stella, an elephant and Bob, a dog who likes to sleep on Ivan’s stomach.
Ivan recounts his life in this unique book, The One and Only Ivan, the Newbery Award winner by Katherine Applegate. Ivan’s life is a sad one, his parents killed, losing his twin sister, Tag, en route from Africa, and being confined to a cage after losing his baby gorilla attractiveness.
Stella’s life is no better with her leg tied to a spike on the floor of her cage, limiting her mobility. Their only true human friend is Julie, the young daughter of the mall’s janitor, George. Through Applegate’s imagination, Ivan and Julie have one thing in common, they’re both artists.
Based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan (known as the Shopping Mall Gorilla) who spent 3 decades in a solitary cage, never seeing another gorilla, Applegate ably brings to light the desolation of being separated from your own species and living in a bland environment. She describes but doesn’t dwell on the atrocities that man manages to enact against animals.
I will tell you that I could visualize Ivan and Stella and Bob and Julie. I could see their living conditions. I could feel their pain, their longing to go home. It takes quite a talent to do that.
I won’t tell you the ending, although you could find out quite easily without reading The One and Only Ivan–Ms. Applegate gives you a short bio of Ivan in the back of her book. However, that would be sheer silliness because the book is addicting. And I assure you, you’ll like the ending. Plus I love the opening quote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” by George Eliot. It is true for Ivan and for us.