Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan is a book that could be summarized in about three seconds without leaving much out. Ivan is a silverback gorilla living in a shopping-mall-cum- circus-tent, where he is the main attraction. Stella the elephant is Ivan’s best friend, along with Bob, a stray dog who regards Ivan’s belly as the premier place to slumber. Mack runs the circus, which fiscally speaking has seen better days, while Julia, daughter to George the janitor, inspires Ivan with her shared interest in art. Then comes Ruby, a baby elephant who changes Ivan’s perspective on life under the big top.

This book has received massively positive reviews, which suggests that most readers find the story compelling and/or charming not just to hear about but actually to read. Whatever extra spark of magic these readers find in the storytelling process is lost on me. Sure, I found the book pleasant. Its narrator is a gorilla—that’s fun. It’s inspired by a true story—that’s neat. The characters are by and large likeable—that’s a plus. Is it a masterpiece? I see no reason for thinking so. It’s a simple tale, simply told and with simple characters. There is some conflict in the book. There is resolution. It all comes and goes just as easily as that. At its most exciting, The One and Only Ivan has all the thrills of a slow-turning carousel. It is a soothing and innocuously delightful ride, aimed primarily at the younger set. For adults, however, the book best serves as an agreeable pit stop between more adventurous reads.

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