The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate: Book Review

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate


Rating Scale: ★★

2: Meh, it passed the time okay

  • It took me too long to finish.

  • Lacked in several of the following: pacing, characters, overall plot, entertainment, details, uniqueness, relevance, or style.


In a mall there is small zoo, one of of the animals is The One and Only Ivan, a full grown silverback gorilla. With such a violent childhood, Ivan has blocked it from his mind. Until one day when Ruby, a baby elephant, joins the show in order to help liven up the old zoo. With the inspiration of art and finally someone to care and look out for, Ivan promises he will help them all escape from the zoo. Based on a real gorilla in an Atlanta zoo, this Newbery Medal book shows the strength of a promise, the power of hope, and the belief of change.

Nahs: Depressing and Repetitive *BEATS HEAD ON WALL*

  • The sentences were short and choppy. The “chapters” were short and choppy. This made the entire story and plot choppy but not short. The book was so repetitive and randomly thrown together, making it hard to connect with the characters. Yes, I felt sad for the characters but that did not make me want to continue reading the story. What would have made the story better, I think, would to be to tell the story from multiple perspectives both the humans and the animals. There were so points where the animal’s past lives were explained; however, not enough to make it truly enjoyable.

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  • Each “chapter” or really, each page, ended on a sad, depressing note. For example, each time the little girl draws Ivan, the gorilla, he says he always looks sad. Or it ends with Ivan having a sarcastic remarks about how stupid chimps or how strange humans are. Some of this is humorous, yes, but it becomes a bit too repetitive where it becomes annoying.

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  • The animals want freedom from their cages; however, in the end, the animals are merely transported from one cage to another. Yes, they have friends now. Yes, they have better medical treatment. But, the ending seemed anticlimactic and made me sad for the animals and mad at the author for glorifying zoos. Why couldn’t Ruby have been relocated or taken to a sanctuary? Why must she live in a cage again?

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Aahs: Animal Cruelty Awareness.

  • This book will hopefully raise awareness in children and their parents about just how depressing life can be trapped inside a cage where animals have no choice but to live life however humans force them.
  • The interesting perspective from Ivan the gorilla.

Genre: Children ages 8-12. Fiction/Animals talk and are the main characters.

Theme: Promise of friendship and hope of change.

First of all, Ivan learns what it feels like to truly care for another. Sweet Ruby, defenseless and scared finally gives Ivan the hope and the strength to do something about the animals’ poor circumstances.

Also, the book brings about awareness of animal rights and suffering (or, I hope so at least). In this new era and generation, people are becoming more attuned to the atrocities animals live through each and every day. I read a review on Goodreads where the reader was mad at the author for making humans appear so mean. Welp honey, that’s because we are. That reader completely missed a big point the author was trying to show us. Humans mistreat animals frequently, and we must learn to become aware and try our best to change these sad situations.


Style and Format: Choppy first person.

In a way, yes, the style does fit the theme of the book. The book is written from a gorilla’s perspective and the sentences are short and to the point, such as how the author believes a monkey would think or speak. However, the overall style is choppy and takes away from the story. It seems rather random and careless. The chapters are SO short, making the plot or story choppy rather than flowing together. I feel like having the monkey’s thoughts be more human-like would be more relatable. Besides, how do we know how gorillas and animals really think? I don’t think this was necessary and overall, it just took away from the flow of the story. There was some decent amount of dialogue in the book between the characters with most of the story being carried by Ivan’s first person narrative in his mind.

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Details or Gaps?: Gaps and confusing.

Maybe because I was rushing to finish or I feared I wouldn’t at all. I felt like some of the scenes were confusing. It may be do the choppy style of writing, but some major parts seem to be confusing to me, so I can’t imagine an 8 year old trying to read this book. The end was anticlimactic and unsatisfying for the theme of the book. Also, the story with Mack was interesting, yet left out a lot of details. Was Mack really abusing the animals? Not any more than a zoo will, really? So why was Mack made out to be a bad guy?

Literary Devices:

  • Personification: Applegate uses personification of the animals in the book in order for the reader to try to understand how a gorilla might feel being stuck in a cage his whole life. Honestly he seems to not care until he sees how Ruby, the baby elephant, reacts to it all. She is depressed and confused. It is sad how the animals are merely sent to another cage. Yes, it is happy they are able to be with other animals, have friends; however, I would have rather seen the animals be liberated or at least live on sanctuaries without cages. It seemed like an anticlimactic ending which put too much praise on zoos. If the objective was to escape cages, the characters never did. The ending did not satisfy me and made me feel even more depressed.
  • Setting: The setting was confusing. Was there random cages in a mall? What kind of mall is that? I have seen aquariums in malls, but never zoos where an entire elephant is in a cage. That is very strange, and I don’t see how that was even legal.
  • Plot: There seems to be a lack of important, plot specific details in this book, but rather random facts that the author just slapped down to make a 300 page book. The plot seems to be neglected until about page 200 or so. Before than, each chapter just made me more depressed.
  • Characters: When it comes to character development, the only one who really changed was Ivan. Still, the characters don’t feel real or lack substance.
  • Mood: DEPRESSING. So sad. So depressing. The ending did NOT make up for it. For a child’s book, this was just too tragic. Reading this aloud to any child would be past my comfort zone.

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Uniqueness Scale:

1 – Tale as old as time…*yawn*

2 – Same old, same old…yet enjoyable.

3 – Same tale…with a twist?

4 – New and refreshing!

5 – Never heard of and leaves you flabbergasted!


Meh. I guess you could try it. It does have extremely high ratings on Goodreads, it won the Newbery Medal, it’s in like every classroom, bookstore, and library I go to. It is super popular. I personally did not enjoy it, and I had to force myself to finish it. It is depressing if you are sensitive to animal rights and suffrage. Animal rights are something I’m quite passionate about, so this book made me have to think about it.

Where can I read it?

I was given the book in hardcopy as a gift. I also found it on OverDrive (online library, just sign in with a library near you). So, I was able to read it digitally on the go. I see it’s available on iBooks, Kindle, at Barnes and Noble, Google Play Books, and probably any bookstore because this book is very popular and has also won the Newbery Medal (somehow).


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