“Ivan” follows Ivan the gorilla as he wallows in his way-too-small cage at a rural mall. The only thing that makes his day worthwhile is when he gets to draw. Ivan has got some serious art skills, and it’s with paint in hand that he works to make his life, and his baby elephant/mall-mate pal Ruby’s life, better.
I have never read a book before in which I’ve wanted to hug literally every single character. I want to hug Ivan and Ruby for living in such squalor, I want to hug the girl who visits them every night and wishes they had a better life, I even want to hug the “bad guy,” Mack, for having seemingly good intentions when he first got Ivan, but somehow let the worst parts of his soul get the better of him. Hugs for everyone!
It speaks to Applegate’s writing ability that she can depict the good and bad in all of her characters. No person (or gorilla or elephant) is 100% good or 100% bad. We are a mix of light and dark, good and evil, and Applegate gets that across. She does so in a way that is digestible to young readers and recognizable to older ones.
This is a quick read, yet its speed does not at all hamper the emotion in the slightest. In fact, it may even give the book more of an emotional punch by not being bogged down with unnecessary fluff.
Applegate was completely deserving of the Newbery award with this one. Now I’m off to the zoo to see if there are any melancholy primates in need of a hug.
Intricate and powerful delivery of the good and bad in all of us.
Details animal rights issues without feeling preachy.