The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is many things: a verse novel, a tear-jerker, based on a true story. Ivan is a gorilla who has spent nearly 30 years as the main attraction in a run-down circus-themed shopping mall. He's been alone so long that, for all he knows, he might be the only gorilla left in the world -- despite the fact that, at his age, he should be the head of a gorilla family, resposible for protecting and leading his pack. His best friends are a scrappy homeless dog named Bob, and Stella, the elephant who is the mall's other main attraction. Ivan and Stella are resigned to living life in their small cages, but when the mall's owner Mack brings in Ruby, a baby elephant, Ivan finds that he does have something worth protecting, after all. How can he save Ruby from a lifetime of imprisonment at the shopping mall?
Ivan is a gorilla of great understanding but few words, so the spare format of the verse novel suits this book well. It's written as a middle-grade novel, and though it does contain a few emotionally distressing scenes, there are no overt instances of cruelty such as you might expect in an adult novel. The characters are complex -- even Mack, the owner of the shopping mall, is not simply painted as the Bad Guy. The book tackles a lot of thought-provoking issues about animal rights, without ever becoming too preachy -- and though I shed a few tears in the middle, the ending of the story is ultimately hopeful.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)