The One And Only Ivan Book Review

“The One and Only Ivan” is a remarkable and heartrending tale, deftly told by Katherine Applegate, an award-winning author known for her ability to combine beautiful storytelling with deep empathy for her characters.

In this review, we’ll delve into the story of Ivan, an easygoing gorilla living in a shopping mall, and discuss the themes, character development, writing style, and the impact this Newbery Medal-winning book has had on readers of all ages.

The review aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the book and its value for young readers and adults alike, uncovering the layers of this seemingly simple story.

We’ll also consider any criticisms that have been raised, and I’ll offer my personal viewpoint on whether or not this book lives up to its accolades and widespread popularity.


Katherine Applegate wrote “The One and Only Ivan” in 2012, inspired by the true story of a gorilla named Ivan who lived in a tiny cage in a shopping mall for 27 years before being moved to a zoo in Atlanta.

Applegate’s intention was not only to share Ivan’s heartbreaking story but also to raise awareness about the conditions of captive animals and to evoke empathy toward them.

The author ingeniously turns this real-life story into a fictional account told from Ivan’s perspective, providing readers with an intimate look into the emotional world of a captive gorilla.

This artistic decision gives the book its unique charm and power, allowing the readers to walk on Ivan’s ‘feet’ and see the world through his eyes.

Next, we will take a closer look at the plot and characters, delving into the world that Applegate has created, where a shopping mall serves as the stage for a moving drama about captivity, friendship, and ultimately, freedom.

Summary of the Book

At its heart, “The One And Only Ivan” is the story of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who has spent almost his entire life in the ‘Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade’.

Here, he’s more an object of curiosity than a living being.

He lives in a domain (read: cage) with a few comforts, his old TV, and his art, his only respite.

His only friends are Stella, an old, wise elephant, and Bob, a stray dog who sneaks into his domain at night.

The tranquility of their life is disrupted by the arrival of Ruby, a baby elephant.

Witnessing Ruby’s misery and remembering Stella’s last wish to save Ruby from the life they’ve lived, Ivan takes it upon himself to change their world.

The book beautifully narrates Ivan’s journey as he hatches a plan to free Ruby, and in turn, finds a new life for himself.

Main Themes

“The One And Only Ivan” skillfully weaves together several powerful themes, making it a thought-provoking read.

Captivity vs Freedom: A central theme of the book is the contrast between captivity and freedom.

The shopping mall setting is a stark symbol of captivity, while Ivan’s artistic talent and the images he creates represent a longing for freedom.

The book makes us question the ethics of keeping animals in captivity for entertainment.

Friendship and Loyalty: Ivan’s bonds with Stella, Bob, and Ruby illuminate the themes of friendship and loyalty.

Despite their circumstances, they take care of each other, showcasing the universal need for companionship, no matter what species you belong to.

Empathy and Understanding: Applegate’s novel helps the reader cultivate empathy and understanding towards animals, making us reflect on their emotional world.

As Ivan says, “Humans waste words.

Analysis of Characters

At the heart of the novel is Ivan, our gorilla protagonist.

His character is portrayed as thoughtful and creative, with a deep, but often suppressed longing for freedom.

Ivan’s transformation throughout the book is subtle yet profound as he changes from a passive resident of the mall to a determined character driven by a purpose.

Bob, the witty stray dog, adds a layer of humor to the narrative, providing comfort and companionship to Ivan.

Stella, the wise old elephant, represents the harsh reality of captive animals, and her tragic end is the catalyst for Ivan’s mission to save Ruby.

Ruby, the young elephant, symbolizes innocence and the future.

Her arrival brings an upheaval in Ivan’s life, awakening his sense of responsibility.

Lastly, there’s Mack, the mall owner, a complex character torn between his affection for Ivan and the economic pressures of running the failing mall.

Author’s Writing Style

Applegate’s writing style in “The One And Only Ivan” is unique and compelling.

The story is told from Ivan’s perspective in short, free-verse chapters.

This approach gives the narrative a poetic quality, with each sentence carrying a depth of meaning.

The language is simple, making it accessible for young readers, but the themes and messages of the book offer plenty of food for thought for adult readers as well.

The use of humor and emotion throughout the book balances the heaviness of the subject matter, creating an engaging and moving reading experience.

Through her words, Applegate has created a beautiful world that encapsulates the joys, sorrows, and resilience of her characters, drawing the reader into Ivan’s world and his journey toward freedom.

Impact and Reception

“The One and Only Ivan” has been met with widespread acclaim, particularly for its powerful storytelling and the emotional depth of its characters.

The book’s impact was so profound that it was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2013, a prestigious recognition in the realm of children’s literature.

The story resonates with a wide range of readers, from young children to adults.

Young readers are captivated by the story of Ivan and his friends, while adults appreciate the deeper themes of captivity, freedom, friendship, and empathy.

Many readers have praised the book for its ability to generate discussions about animal rights and captivity, a testament to Applegate’s success in presenting these serious issues in a manner that is accessible to young readers.


Despite its widespread acclaim, “The One and Only Ivan” has not been without its critics. Some readers felt that the book’s simple language, intended for accessibility to younger audiences, might not fully capture the complexity of the issues it addresses.

Others have argued that certain characters, particularly Mack, could have been developed more thoroughly.

They claim that Mack’s character appears somewhat one-dimensional and his transformation towards the end of the book feels somewhat rushed.

However, these criticisms are relatively minor when viewed against the breadth of positive reception the book has received.

In the concluding section, we will wrap up our analysis of “The One and Only Ivan” and discuss its overall effectiveness as a work of literature.

Closing Thoughts

After exploring the various elements of “The One and Only Ivan”, it’s clear that Katherine Applegate has crafted a truly unique and powerful tale.

The story blends emotional depth with an engaging narrative that speaks to readers of all ages.

Ivan’s journey from passivity to purpose serves as a captivating metaphor for finding one’s voice and using it to effect change, a message that is both timeless and relevant.

Despite minor criticisms regarding the simplicity of the language and the development of certain characters, the overall consensus among readers is overwhelmingly positive.

The book’s widespread acclaim, highlighted by the Newbery Medal, is well-deserved and attests to its quality and impact.

In terms of its effectiveness, “The One and Only Ivan” beautifully fulfills its role as a children’s book that can be enjoyed by adults as well.

It has the ability to evoke laughter, tears, and most importantly, thought and conversation about the animals with whom we share our world.

As such, it is a highly recommended read for anyone, young or old, who appreciates storytelling that is heartfelt, thought-provoking, and ultimately, hopeful.

Our Rating for “The One And Only Ivan”

In evaluating “The One And Only Ivan”, I find it imperative to break down my assessment into several key components: plot, characters, writing style, themes, and overall impact.

Plot: The plot is unique and engaging.

It starts slowly, revealing the mundane details of Ivan’s life, but picks up momentum with the arrival of Ruby.

From there, it’s a heart-tugging journey toward an uplifting conclusion.

Rating: 4.5/5

Characters: The characters are well-drawn, each contributing significantly to the story.

Ivan, in particular, is an endearing protagonist whose growth is commendable.

Some characters, like Mack, could have used a little more depth.

Rating: 4/5

Writing Style: Katherine Applegate’s free-verse style is an innovative approach that adds a poetic quality to the narrative.

The language is simple, yet full of depth, making it accessible for younger readers without compromising the complex themes.

Rating: 4.5/5

Themes: The themes of captivity, friendship, empathy, and freedom are deftly interwoven into the narrative.

The book’s exploration of these themes is thoughtful and sure to provoke meaningful conversations among readers.

Rating: 5/5

Overall Impact: The emotional resonance of the book is powerful.

It speaks to our hearts and minds, making us ponder on the emotional lives of animals, their rights, and our responsibility towards them.

This balance of emotion and reflection is what makes “The One And Only Ivan” a standout read.

Rating: 4.5/5

Taking all these factors into account, “The One And Only Ivan” scores a well-deserved overall rating of 4.5 out of 5.

It’s a heartwarming tale of friendship and freedom, compellingly told and rich in emotion. Whether you’re young or simply young at heart, this book is sure to leave a lasting impression.


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