The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, 2012

Ivan has lived at the Exit 8 Big Top Circus Mall since he was a juvenile gorilla, just off I-95 and under the billboard lauding “The One and Only Ivan.”  His best friends include Stella, the aging elephant, Bob the stray dog, and Julia, the daughter of the janitor.  But the Big Top isn’t faring well.  “You’re old news,” Bob tells Ivan.  Mack, owner of the Big Top, seems to agree and purchases a new, frightened, sad-eyed baby elephant.

This is a very emotional story of captive wild animals.  Ms. Applegate gives them wonderful personalities, lively dialogue, and boatloads of sympathy.  It’s just a little too sentimental for my tastes.  And I don’t agree with the social statement that people are horrible and wild animals should never live in cages.  I agree that we shouldn’t mistreat animals.  And I don’t think it’s necessarily wise for regular Joes to keep large, dangerous animals, especially after last year’s tragedy in Ohio.  But these aren’t humans.  They aren’t “slaves” as PETA has said in a ridiculous lawsuit citing the 13th Amendment on behalf of captive orcas.  They aren’t the wistful, long-suffering, loving family of characters in this book.  They’re animals.  Bored, perhaps.  Aggressive, probably.  In need of laws to regulate who, and for what purpose, can keep them, definitely.  But to put them on the same level as humans (gorillas and humans are called “fellow apes”) is absurd.

Now that I’ve struck down the reality and whole premise of the book, let me tell you what I did like.  The characters.  The animals are extremely loveable.  It’s told from Ivan’s point of view, and that gives it a gentle tone.  I love the fact that Ivan is an artist, which gives him common ground and a special ability to relate with Julia, the human girl.  Bob the dog is funny.  The baby elephant is sweet.  The chapters are short, short, which is nice for young or struggling readers.  And the ending is feel good.  It’s original.  I am an incurable animal lover, so it’s fun to pretend animals could really be like this.  Yet The One and Only Ivan uses emotion and sentimentality to very subtly place animals on par with humans, and that can be dangerous.  Such evolutionary thought lessens the value of human life.

5 thoughts on “The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, 2012

  1. This book certainly stirred you! Hum — don’t know what I think after reading your review since I haven’t read the book. I do believe animals have powerful emotions, especially apes and elephants. A friend of mine participates in a chanting group. They traveled to Africa and stayed at a refuge that rescued elephants that had been severely abused. They were warned to keep their distance because the elephants didn’t trust humans. So the women began chanting/singing every day and evening. Eventually, the elephants began to respond to the soothing sounds and ended up befriending a eacg special member of the group. The elephants sensed the love and felt they could trust the women. The group has made three trips to this refuge in the past few years. They bring healing and the elephants remember them.
    I see a lot of emotion in my dog when I am gone for a period of time — he becomes very depressed and hides under my side of the bed my husband reports. He’s very attached to me. After one of our first poodles passed, the othe perfectly healthy poodle went into a severe depression for months and then developed Addison’s Disease. They may not be human emotions, but I believe animals feel deeply. Will have to read this book to get a better grasp of your concerns.

    Happy New Year Michelle! I feel that 2013 will be your year! – Pat

    1. I know where you’re coming from, Pat. I love animals. You know how much I love Bailey, and I understand the real trust and emotion that develops between people and their pets, and pets and their people, and pets and other pets. I’m sure wild animals feel those same emotions. I applaud your friends’ efforts with the elephants, and I’m all about treating animals with kindness and respect. After people, animals are God’s highest creation. But animals are still animals, and people are still people. I thought this book blurred that line.

  2. This is an interesting book. I think animals are our companions and can be thought of as “one of the family” but they are not people. I also think people who abuse animals should be fined or put in jail. The cover of the book is really cute!

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