Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The One and Only Ivan: A Book Review

There will be NO SPOILERS in this review. Enjoy! (:

Today's book review is for Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan. I visit this same independent bookstore often, and repeatedly saw this book on display. The adorable cover intrigued me, as well as the title. The title/cover gives off this "circus" vibe that seems to have risen to popularity since Water For Elephants many years ago. Despite the Newbery Medal on the cover, it took me a while to recognize that this book is a children's book. That, however, did not stop me from wanting it. I ended up receiving it as a surprise gift from my very sweet boyfriend who can't seem to help himself when it comes to spoiling me with books. (;

When I read children's book such as these, it makes me wonder why I don't seek more of them. I will be keeping my eye on the Newberry Medal books section much more often from now on.

Title: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Children's (Ages 8 & Up)
Pages: 320
Release date: January 17, 2012
Links: AmazonB&N | Goodreads

Here is the inside-cover description:

"Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home-and his own art- through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it's up to Ivan to make it a change for the better."

When my boyfriend got me this book we immediately sat down and started reading it together. Within the first two pages, we were already laughing.

I find that the overall story itself is fairly basic. The writing is done in a very minimal style (which I find very appropriate from the perspective of a gorilla), though still with a hint of humor. 

Following The One and Only Ivan is the "real" tale of Ivan (the story of the real Silverback Gorilla, Ivan, that inspired Appelgate's novel). Despite the fact that Applegate didn't create Ivan himself, I definitely felt like her narration of Ivan added a level the reader wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

Applegate's story made me think about language and the different ways we as humans communicate. Ivan says that "Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot."And while that is a particularly unap-peel-ing (punny, right?) way to put it, I do feel like he's right for the most part. Nowadays, there are endless ways to communicate. There are so many social media sites I use this year that I'm not even sure existed 5 years ago. Humans can't resist networking and "connecting" with one another. But how much of that "connecting" is genuine communication? How much of the words that we use for the purposes of language (making ourselves understood/conveying meaning) do we spend on something that is worth it? And how much of it is "wasted"?

I'm sure social media was not at all the point Applegate was getting at with Ivan's drawings, but it was something I took away from it. Ivan didn't have language the same way the humans in the novel did, but he did have his drawings. And though his drawings were equivalent to what a baby could recreate, I do think it makes a point about minimalism and language barriers.

However, aside from the topics of language and communication, I think The One and Only Ivan also tells the a great story of friendship and the familial bonds that can result from it. Silverback Gorillas, elephants, and dogs all communicating in one novel. The metaphorical reader in me can't help but take that as symbolism of hope.

This book review got slightly more rant-y than I would have preferred, but I suppose I really wouldn't have it any other way.

The inside-cover specifies that The One and Only Ivan is intended for audiences ages 8-12. However regardless of age- it has animals, humor, a heartwarming tale of love, friendship, and hope- who can't appreciate that?

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