I love it when a sequel is just as good as the original, don’t you? It’s a rarity, for sure. But when you stumble on a follow up to a favorite book or movie that captures the charm or thrill of the original you love, it’s such an unexpected joy. I didn’t even realize that today’s recommendation had been written or released until I received an email from my local library, suggesting it may be a book my son would enjoy. You gotta love the all-knowing library; rarely do they make a misstep.

This fall, my son’s teacher read The One and Only Ivan to the class. Written by Katherine Applegate, this book is based loosely on the story of Ivan, a western lowland gorilla who was born in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo but was then transported to the US to be kept as a pet. When he became too unruly to live as a member of a human family (as one does), he was sold to the owner of a circus themed mall in Washington State. Though the zoo housed a menagerie of animal species, Ivan lived in a small cage and didn’t see another gorilla for 27 long years.

Eventually, his sadness became evident to those who would visit the mall. Concerned, and touched by his situation, they began to speak out on Ivan’s behalf, particularly after he was featured in National Geographic in an article entitle, The Urban Gorilla. As a result of public outcry, Ivan was relinquished to Zoo Atlanta in 1994, where he lived a happy life with other gorillas until he passed away in 2012 at the age of 50.

Though the other characters in Applegate’s tale are pure fiction, they still brought Ivan’s story to life in a way that made it easy to love him and to root for not only his survival but his right to thrive in a life beyond the bars of his cage. One of his animal friends is Bob, a scrappy pup who had been a stray before wandering into Ivan’s enclosure to snuggle and snooze on his furry belly one cold night. Over the course of time, Bob finds a home with Ivan and the other mall animals, as well as two kind humans, George and Julia.

George works for the owner of the mall circus but he knows the conditions the animals live in are grossly inadequate. Julia is George’s young daughter, who befriends the animals, particularly Ivan, Stella, Ruby and Bob. In fact, when the circus is shut down, Bob goes to live with George and Julia, where he reluctantly comes to grips with becoming domesticated… becoming, of all things, a pet!

And this is the backbone of the sequel to Applegate’s story of Ivan, aptly named The One and Only Bob. Through a first person (first dog?) narrative, we learn about Bob’s extremely humble beginnings as a stray puppy born under a porch to a mother who also had no real home. When he’s still very young, he and his litter mates are taken from their mother and placed in a box, then driven to a remote area and cast into a ditch like unwanted pieces of trash.

Surprisingly, Bob finds himself shaken but not injured after being tossed by the humans. But he does find himself alone, in unfamiliar territory. He begins walking and eventually comes across a gigantic billboard featuring a photo of a huge beast, the likes of which Bob had never seen before. Though he has no idea why, he decides to follow that sign, taking him off the highway he’d been walking along, and straight to the mall where he’ll soon meet his highly unlikely best friend, Ivan.

Bob lived at the mall for two years before coming to live with Julia’s family. But though he is now safe and warm and loved beyond measure, he still holds a lot of anger and resentment in his little doggy heart, against the humans who so callously ripped him from his mother’s warmth and care. He just can’t seem to let Julia and her family fully into his heart; to do so would mean making himself vulnerable to being hurt again. Are we sure we’re still talking about a dog here? This is a starting to sound like a very human character.

Running parallel to Bob’s story of vulnerability and inner turmoil is that of an actual storm; a hurricane, in fact. This is not an uncommon occurrence for the area where the book is set, however it’s obvious that Applegate is setting up an ominous situation for the reader. The way Bob refers to never getting too comfortable in the belief that an piece of land belongs to you. That ‘boxes go flying’. Having had my own world turned upside down by a hurricane 3 years ago, I feel this in my bones. Nature is the great equalizer and always gets her way.

In Bob’s case, the hurricane separates him from the cozy life he’d previously hesitated to embrace. Can he find his way back to Julia and the rest of his loving family, both human and beast? And what of the mysterious barking voice he thought he heard on the wind? Could it really be his outspoken and feisty litter mate, the sister they once called Boss?

By the time you finish this book, you’ll agree that The One and Only Bob is a worthy companion to the beloved story of Ivan. Bob is a character that you can really rally behind; a scrappy survivor who is afraid of being burned again. But one who ultimately learns that opening your heart up to love is one of the bravest things you can do. If you’re looking for a book that has all of the feels without a ton of schmaltz, Bob is your dog.

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