The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate: An online friend of mine spoke highly of this book as a read for her book club (hi Jules!) so I thought I’d give it a read myself. Knowing it was YA and knowing it had just won the Newberry Medal, I ordered it. What I discovered is that The One and Only Ivan is this author’s soul-stirring fictionalization of a true story. There really WAS a gorilla named Ivan who was forced to live in a pen at a SHOPPING MALL (if you want to know more, as I did, here’s a good place to start). I recently read that the author had learned of Ivan years ago in a NYT article, clipped the article out and held on to it in her “idea file”. I’m so glad she did! Where Katherine Applegate excels with this book is in walking that fine line of childhood whimsy-meets-adult-wisdom with Ivan’s thoughts as he processes life in his cage (with his friends, Bob the dog; Stella the elephant; and, eventually, little Ruby, the elephant who inspires him to change his life). This is one of those stories that, whether you have a child to read it to/with or not, it’ll tug at your heart strings. Well worth the time and investment.
Passages I Want to Remember: My life is flashing lights and pointing fingers and uninvited visitors. Inches away, humans flatten their little hands against the wall of glass that separates us. The glass says you are this and we are that and that is how it will always be. // 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.
Would I Recommend? If you are someone who loves a good story — no matter what shelf that story may be on in the bookstore — then yes. If you struggle with themes of animal cruelty, you may be overly saddened by this one, but, overall, it’s such a wonderful message that, in the end, I’m hopeful that won’t turn you away!
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: I had read some of Fowler before (I enjoyed her Jane Austen Book Club years ago) and I was encouraged about reading this one after spotting so many “I can’t put this book down” reviews on Amazon and GoodReads. The verdict for me? Well, let’s just say I COULD put it down. And did, many nights before I drifted off to sleep. It’s not that this book was BAD (far from it), I just found myself losing interest in the plot at times (which took off in a million directions). At its core, WAACB is about a young girl named Rosemary, her siblings (sister, Fern and brother, Lowell) and the complications of what stands for a sibling bond when animals (particularly a they relate to animal rights and cruelty) are involved. To say more might reveal a bit of a plot twist for future readers … Fowler is certainly a great writer, but the biggest weakness I had with this title of hers was her distracting use of detail. As several of us in the book club noted, there were SO many details (about Bloomington, Ind. (where Rosemary’s father was a professor); UC Davis (where Rosemary would attend college) and on the topics of psychological studies and theories) that many of us felt the story itself got a bit bogged down in all of that research (or, as one noted, “I got to wondering,’ Did this whole thing REALLY happen?’ The answer? No, it did not). A solid read, overall, just not one that blew me away is all.
Passages I Want to Remember: Language does this to our memories—simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.
Would I Recommend? As a blanket recommendation, this wouldn’t make it to the top of the list. But depending on the friend and his/her personal interests, possibly ….
After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey: With my life as a (former) journalist and fond memories of the profession (both good and bad), as soon as I heard the plot of this book, I was totally intrigued. After Visiting Friends tells the true story of a son (the author)’s attempts to uncover what really happened the night his father, Bob Hainey, a well-respected Chicago newspaperman, died mysteriously in 1970. Himself a reporter (and now around his father’s age), Michael spent nearly a decade reporting for this book. His details in it are meticulous and rich and I found myself TOTALLY sucked into the story. In the end, learning how and where Michael’s father meet his demise take a backseat to Michael’s story, a son desperate to move past this all-consuming trauma in his life and needing the answers he discovers along the way to do so. (Also, I had THE most surreal moment reading this book—in a passage where Michael talks about finding former reporter “friends” of his father, he mentions Googling (and then visiting for an interview) a Craig Klugman of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Ummmm…..I INTERVIEWED AND WAS OFFERED A JOB BY CRAIG! (I turned it down, in the end, because the move wasn’t right for us at the time, but still!) Definitely one of the craziest happenstances I’ve come across in my years as a reader!)
Passages I Want to Remember: He died and we never spoke about him. Every once in a while, I’d find the courage to ask about him. Every once in a while, the question nagging in my head—How did he die?—would become too much and I’d forget the rules and ask. // In the end, he lived on in scrapbooks. Six of them. Brittle, faded pages bound with string. Out of these fragments, over the years, I created his narrative. And my narrative.
Would I Recommend? ABSOLUTELY. Especially for anyone who likes non-fiction, true crime (there’s no real “crime” here, per say, but it reads like a whodunit), and a good work of journalism.