Friday, November 16, 2012

2013 Second Takes: The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

There's something magical about a book with an excellent voice, and I'm not sure I've read a book this year with a better one than The One and Only Ivan. The prose is spare and terse, but populated with arresting similes and unusual turns of phrase. Ivan, a gorilla trapped in the world's most depressing mall circus, is the narrator, and he's both elegaic and flatly sarcastic, a true wordsmith, but one who is incapable of verbally communicating with the humans in the story. It's a voice full of sublimated tension, which perfectly mirrors the narrative.

It's possible to criticize the events leading up to the book's climax as being unrealistic, or to argue that the narrative moves awfully fast at that point. But I didn't feel like one was meant to take The One and Only Ivan as a fully true-to-life tale, even if its hero is based on a real gorilla -- with its animals who talk to each other and plan to save one another, it's got a certain Charlotte's Web vibe to it. As such, I felt like the narrative played by the rules it had laid out for itself.

Rachael really liked this one, and I have to agree with her. I don't know if I prefer The One and Only Ivan to Breathing Room or Wooden Bones, but it certainly makes my Top Five of the year, at least to this point. It's on our Mock Newbery list, and I really look forward to seeing what people have to say about it at the event.

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