Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Book Review Club - The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
Katherine Applegate
middle grade

Let me say right off the bat that I really enjoyed this book. Really enjoyed it. There were some craft aspects I had my issues with, but the the emotional connection was so complete, it was impossible to walk away from the story unchanged. 

Basic plot - a silverback gorilla, Ivan, struggles to find a way to transfer a new, baby elephant, Ruby, that's been added to the circus mall where Ivan lives to a zoo.

The story is very loosely based on a real silverback gorilla named Ivan who lived in capitivity in a mall for almost 30 years. During that time, our understanding of primate needs grew exponentially until public unrest pressured Ivan's owners to put him on permanent loan to the Atlanta Zoo. Consequently, there's real behind the fiction.

Applegate does an amazing job of creating Ivan's world, bringing unspoken depths to his and the other characters' emotions, and bringing the audience into the world of captive animals. Ivan seems so very real. He has friends - a dog and an older elephant. He has animals he doesn't care for - a poodle. He's well-rounded emotionally. He also has an artistic side that ultimately helps save Ruby. I won't say how. No spoilers! Here is a very character driven story.

Yet, from a craft perspective, I had a little trouble getting through the very beginning of the story. It is intensely introspective and, at times, well, a bit of an expository dump. In Applegate's defense, she somehow had to build the story around this gorilla, but there was a lot of terminology and backstory in the beginning that got a little long. I did listen to this on tape, so length may shorten if one is reading. Still, as a writer, I wondered how the section got left as is. There had to have been a way to change it up some, to add some action to the telling, telling, telling.

On the upside, there is hope fellow writers. One does not have to create a perfectly crafted piece to create a perfectly amazing one.

For other great reads, saunter over to Barrie Summy's website. It's loaded with temptations!