Let me begin this review by saying: this is the first book to land on my 2013 Newbery shortlist.
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan who lived in a mall in Washington State and was a tourist attraction, along with some other animals. IVAN is narrated by Ivan himself, mostly as a series of thoughts - the only dialogue comes in when Ivan either hears humans speaking or speaks to another animal himself. And while this is not my favorite way for an author to write a book, it works perfectly for this one and I wouldn't have it changed for anything in the world.
At the beginning of the story, Ivan is bored but mostly content with the world of the mall, where he is a star attraction. He has friends (Bob the stray dog; Stella the elephant) and frequent visitors (his keeper/owner, Mack, and Julia, daughter of the mall's custodian). He eats; he sleeps; he draws though what comes out of his pencils and crayons never matches what's in his head. Things are a little up and a little down but mostly status quo at the mall...until Ruby arrives.
Ruby's a baby elephant, purchased from a terrible circus, who grew up in the wild. Humans killed her family and sold her to the circus, who chained her to the floor most of the day, until finally she ended up at the mall. Stella looks after her like a mother, but Ruby cannot settle, cannot fully adjust to everything that's been taken from her. And then Stella gets sick. And one night, Stella extracts a promise from Ivan - that after she's gone, Ivan will find Ruby a safe place. A "life different than mine."
It will take everything Ivan is, every ounce of will he has, to keep his promise to Stella.
I've said before that I don't really love animal stories, and I don't. It takes something really special for me to love an animal story, and this book has spades of special. The language is exquisite. I read it to myself but I found myself wishing Molly were just a little older so I could read it aloud to her. I wanted a classful of kids to read it aloud to. Sometimes I just read a line or two aloud to myself so I could hear the words ring in my ears.
This is a book of love and hope and promises; of pain and fear and sorrow; of found family. This is a book that will gently turn your heart inside out and back again. This is a book that you may feel compelled to hug when you have finished it.
This is a book I want you to know about, and I want you to read it, and I hope that you love it as much as I did.