This is a story told from the point of view of a caged gorilla.
For those who have trouble suspending disbelief, please read this story with an open mind. It's an imaginary view of how a real gorilla, Ivan, might have felt. It's a commentary on our humanity, a vision of what it means to be a true friend, and a story of injustice and justice.
If you can believe in Charlotte and the Velveteen Rabbit and Edward Tulane, you can believe in Ivan.
Other things I love about the novel...
Short paragraphs (often one sentence long) create a visually appealing book for students who might not normally choose a "thick" chapter book. Lots of white space and pictures that truly illustrate the text move the reader through the story quickly.
Ivan - a caged gorilla born in the wild, a philosopher king and artist
Stella - a former circus elephant with a bad foot and a big heart
Bob - a stray dog who sometimes sleeps with Ivan and keeps him company
Ruby - a new arrival to the "domain", a younger elephant bought from a circus
Julia - a fellow artist and gorilla whisperer
George - Julia's father, a tender soul who cleans the mall where Ivan lives
Mack - the animals' keeper
Ivan the gorilla is a sardonic observer of human beings. He's painfully aware of his own place in the world, but lets his heart expand to come to a place of peace about it.
I too find it hard to believe there is a connection across time and space, linking me to a race of ill-mannered clowns.
Chimps. There's no excuse for them.
Use of Dramatic Irony:
Because the story is told from an animal's point of view, we get a behind-the-scenes vibe from the comments of the human characters.
As Mack struggles to train Ruby...
Ruby jerks to a stop. Mack pulls the chain hard, but Ruby refuses to move.
"Come on Ruby." Mack is almost pleading. "What is your problem?"
"She's exhausted," I say to myself. "That's the problem."
Mack groans. "Idiot elephant."
"Idiot human," Bob mutters.
The humor, the gut-wrenching sadness, the pathos. It's all there.
As Ivan contemplates his situation...
"He looks so lonely," they say.
Not long ago, a little boy stood before my glass [cage], tears streaming down his smooth red cheeks. "He must be the loneliest gorilla in the world," he said, clutching his mother's hand.
At times like that, I wish humans could understand me the way I can understand them.
It's not so bad, I wanted to tell the little boy. With enough time, you can get used to almost anything.
An ending we get to fully experience:
Without giving anything away, I love that the ending of this book feels long. So often the conflict gets solved (or not) and we don't get to experience the final result WITH the character(s). We have to imagine them continuing on and wonder how it's going for them. Not so with Ivan. We get to live his ending with him.
The One and Only Ivan, book trailer
(Images and trailer from http://theoneandonlyivan.com/)