Book Reviews

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate

*cover and synopsis from Goodreads*

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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 TV shows he’s seen and 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.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.


The One and Only Ivan is a quick read–or a “quicker” audiobook, if you listen to it while I did. But while the story seems simple, it’s not.

The story is told by Ivan, the gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Ivan has a unique narrative voice unlike any I’ve ever read before. As a gorilla, he naturally makes comments about the weird things humans do. But he also has this wise innocence to him, making him a charming character.

The other characters are also well done. Bob is a snarky dog, but he has a soft side to him. Stella is the wise, mentor-figure elephant. And then there’s Ruby, the baby elephant. And that’s not mentioning the human characters, who we get to meet and learn about through their interaction with Ivan and the others.

The story was nice. Applegate did a nice job of being honest about the sad realities in the story, while not letting it bog down the narrative.

The narrator I listened to also did a great job. I really liked his voices for all of the characters.

Cautions: brief reference to evolution; brief description of animal poaching

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