It is based on the true story of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who after being taken from the wild, spent his first few years in a human home. Then he spent the next three decades in a cage in a mall in Washington State.
Katherine Applegate has given him a voice that enables the rest of us to begin to understand what it might have been like for him all those years.
In this fictional account of his life, Ivan has a few other animals he is close to; Bob the mongrel dog that shares his cage, and Stella the ill and aging elephant who lives in the small enclosure next to him. At first Ivan seems almost content with his life and his painting. Then Ruby, a baby elephant is brought into the mall. Ivan is forced to face deeply buried memories in order to come up with a plan to save Ruby from an existence like theirs.
While reading this one I wept. I laughed. It is complicated: From the stories of the humans who saved Ruby, to the humans who killed her family, and Mack, the mall owner, who seemed to love Ivan as a son, yet kept him in a cage for so long.
All this is punctuated with moments of poignant stinging truths.
“But many days I forget what I am supposed to be. Am I a human? Am I a gorilla?
Humans have so many words, more than they truly need. Still, they have no name for what I am. “
When describing why the picture on the billboard is not him, Ivan explains, “…I am never angry.
Anger is precious. A silverback uses anger to maintain order and warn his troop of danger. When my father beat his chest, it was to say. Beware, listen, I am in charge. I am angry to protect you, because that is what I was born to do.
Here in my domain, there is no one to protect.”
Thank you Katherine Applegate for writing this book. I wish I had gotten around to reading it sooner.
Do yourself a favor. Read this book. Do it now.