Katherine Applegate / HarperCollins / 352 pages
Bob has not had an easy life. As a puppy, he and his siblings were thrown from a truck window by a cruel owner. Bruised and starving, Bob found his way to the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, home of Ivan, a gorilla who spent 27 years of his life in a cage and who became Bob’s best friend.
In this long-awaited sequel to Applegate’s Newbery Medal-winning 2012 book, The One and Only Ivan (recently adapted into a feature film streaming on Disney+), the Big Top Mall has closed and the animal residents have been dispersed to zoos and sanctuaries around the country. Ivan and Ruby, a baby elephant, now reside in the local zoo. Bob has found a home with the family of the former mall caretaker, but he’s having trouble settling in—even after a year he still has the sense that he has to find shelter, safety, somewhere to belong. And, although Bob bills himself as “untamed and undaunted,” deep down he believes himself to be a coward.
Bob has reason to doubt his bravery—after his flight from the truck window, he heard the cries of his sister but he didn’t try very hard to find her. When her yelps stopped, part of him was relieved, because as a small puppy himself, it was all he could do to take care of himself. He has spent his few years of life believing himself to be alone, and living with the guilt. But when a hurricane strikes the zoo and a nearby animal shelter, it’s Bob who leads the rescue efforts, finding courage he didn’t know he had.
The One and Only Bob is about being tested and rising to the occasion, making amends and finding the true meaning of family. In true Applegate style, the book touches on big ideas and big themes without preaching. Bob notes that the zoo that is Ivan and Ruby’s home is an improvement over a cage in a mall but is not perfect: “A perfect place would not need walls.” But “when you’re an animal it helps to be a realist.” Recommended for ages 8–12, but an engaging and uplifting story for readers of all ages.