Inspired by the true story of a gorilla who spent 30 years alone in a cage at an indoor zoo in a mall, this beautiful book imagines what that gorilla might have felt and said about his life. Ivan does not dwell on his memories as does his friend Stella, an elderly elephant in the cage next door. Still, he remembers his life with his family in the jungle, the death of his sister, and his early days being raised by Max, the owner of the animal show. He also has memories from his long, lonely interment with only a television, a stuffed animal, and a stray dog who sneaks into his concrete cage to sleep on his chest for company.
Ivan loves to paint. He can remember making designs on his mother's back as a young ape, and now Max sells the pictures that Ivan creates each day. The custodian's daughter also loves to paint and shares her supplies with Ivan, giving him new ways to express his experiences.
Yet life at the animal show is becoming increasingly distressing. Stella has an infection on her foot that Max ignores because he is low on money. When he purchases a baby elephant to revive interest in the show, both Stella and Ivan are concerned about how he is treating this gentle youngster. Encouraged by Bob, the stray dog, and inspired by Stella, Ivan begins to imagine rescuing not only the baby elephant but himself. Perhaps his painting is the key. Maybe he can use it to change the animals' lives forever.
These unforgettable characters overflow with pain and love in an ultimately hopeful story about the healing power of art.