The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I like colorful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings. But any story will do,” says Ivan, the narrator of Katherine Applegate’s Newbery Medal-winning novel.

In The One and Only Ivan, Applegate, with a light touch and an aching poignance, tells a tale of friendship reminiscent of E.B. White’s classic, Charlotte’s Web.

I’m not a fan of present-tense stories in general, but it makes sense that a gorilla who has lived for decades in a never-changing environment would speak in the present tense. Ivan is a complex and likable character who grows and evolves throughout the story until, finally, he rediscovers who he is. I love the gentle fierceness of Stella the elephant, and the snarky but loyal Bob the dog.

I started reading this book aloud to my daughter (nearly eight years old) one evening before bed. She finished it on her own the next morning, but still graciously let me spend another two days reading it aloud to her until we finished it together.

When I tearily observed that we must be in the “stormy middle,” she assured me that the book would have a “blue-sky ending.” I smiled at her, appreciating her reassurance even though I was pretty sure that, since this is a children’s book, it wouldn’t have an unhappy ending.

The happy ending was very nearly too happy, but it was saved from the saccharine by just a tinge of bitterness. I blubbered through nearly the entire second half, my daughter looking up into my face from my lap and smiling softly as she patted me on the shoulder.

This was a lovely book for her and me to share.

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4 Replies to “The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate”

  1. Maybe I’ll give it another chance. I started it and couldn’t get through it. I found it so manipulative and cliche, but I didn’t get far enough to be able to appreciate the secondary characters.


    1. I’m not sure I would have read it on my own, but reading it aloud really kept me going. It’s a bit manipulative, I guess, but I was willingly manipulated. Stella really was my favorite character.


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