This tween fiction book just about broke my heart, and I wasn’t expecting it. The cover of my copy had a friendly looking drawing on it of a gorilla with a smiling baby elephant. It’s not a long book, has won the Newberry Medal and is a New York Times bestseller. I knew it would be above average, but still I assumed it would be fairly lighthearted. I was mistaken.

The One and Only Ivan is very well written, with engaging characters and an imaginative portrayal of the inner thought processes of animals who live in close proximity to humans. It also has an unflinching view of the cruelty humans are capable of. Ivan and his friends were taken from the wild and now live in a mini-circus, owned by Mac (the clown). The story follows the arrival of Ruby, a baby elephant, and how she changes all of their lives.

There are a lot of undercurrents in this story, both light and dark. It demands a reader’s attention and is just as relevant to adult readers as it is for its younger target audience.