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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 104/100: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan - Patricia Castelao, Katherine Applegate

People have been thrusting this book my way ever since it was first published, since I was at the time engaged to my own "one and only Ivan" (a man named Ivan, not a gorilla). I finally got around to reading it as part of my Year in Reading Suggestions November theme to read an award winner (it won the Newbury).

It took a little while to get going for me. Although I liked Ivan's straightforward, warm, and simple "gorilla" voice, I wanted more than simple observations of what life was like for a lone gorilla caged in a shopping mall. Still, Ivan's huge heart begins to come through when he makes a promise to his dying friend that he will look after the baby elephant who has just arrived in a last-ditch effort to save the flailing mall from bankruptcy. His efforts require all his smarts, his heart, and his art as he tries to communicate with humans about the baby elephant Ruby's need to live her life in a better place.

Although the book is short, the characterizations are surprisingly complex. Mac, the owner of the Big Top Mall, becomes abusive in his desperation, but not until after we've seen the way he lovingly raised Ivan at home until he was too big to keep living "like a human." Ivan and Ruby long for a more complete life, yet find themselves terrified to leave what has become familiar when the opportunity arrives.

A book told from the point of view of an animal requires some suspension of disbelief, but apes are so intelligent that it was not difficult to really believe in Ivan's interpretation of events, nor in his ability to truly understand them. I knew this book was creeping into four-star territory when I found myself tearing up several times near the end. I liked the illustrations, but wish there had been more of Ivan's paintings. Still, this is a book that his truly earned its place among celebrated Newbury award winners.