I don’t think I’ve ever felt so divided over a book. My adult-brain has one opinion, and my child-brain has the complete opposite opinion.
The One and Only Ivan is based on the true story of a gorilla that was captured in Africa as a baby. He was named Ivan, trained to paint pictures, and lived in a cage inside a shopping mall for 27 years. As people learned more about caring for exotic animals, public protests got Ivan moved to a zoo. For the first time since he was a baby, Ivan was able to run around and interact with other gorillas.
“Gorillas are not complainers. We're dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers.” – The One and Only Ivan
The book is narrated by Ivan, a gorilla. The story is simple and sparsely written, which makes it a very fast read. I finished the book in one sitting. It may also be a good novel for reluctant readers because they can blaze through it. The book looks thick, but there are illustrations, wide spaces between the paragraphs, and very few words on each page. I guess gorillas aren’t very talkative.
“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.” – The One and Only Ivan
When I was a kid, my favorite books were Black Beauty and The Call of the Wild. If a book had an animal narrator, I wanted to read it. I would have loved Ivan; the elephants, Stella and Ruby; and Bob, the dog. Animals were easy for me to relate to as a kid because both kids and animals are powerless. They have to do whatever the adult humans tell them to do. I would have completely loved Ivan’s story, especially because it’s based on true events.
As an adult, I struggle with talking animal stories. They always feel emotionally manipulative. In this book, animals and kids are “good,” and adults are “evil.” If you don’t like stories about animal abuse, you might want to avoid this one. Parts of it are pretty depressing. When it comes to animals, it’s very easy to manipulate a reader’s emotions, and that makes me rebellious. I don’t like super-manipulative books.
I also have issues with stories that personify animals as much as this one does. Animals should be treated kindly, and gorillas should never be kept in shopping malls, but animals aren’t humans. Expecting an animal to behave like a person is dangerous. If a gorilla gets scared, he’s not going to think logically about the situation. He’s just going to bite your face off and run away to munch leaves or something. No regrets. My adult-brain prefers books that show animals realistically and not personified.
My favorite part of the book is the end. I like that it isn’t perfect. Ivan is a giant gorilla that was raised in captivity, so there’s no perfect solution for what to do with him after he’s removed from the mall. The book also shows his problems adjusting to life with other gorillas. Getting what he wants doesn’t solve all of his problems. His new life comes with a new set of challenges.
Since this is a children’s book, I’m going to listen to my child-brain on this one. I was an extremely picky reader as a kid, but this book would have become one of my favorites. The characters are relatable, and the story is humorous without glossing over the hard stuff. If you have a kid who loves animals, I’d highly recommend this book.