The story follows Ivan; a Silverback gorilla who lives off of Exit 8 at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade in a glass "domain." Ivan is a lonely, artistic gorilla who has many friends. He loves to draw and then eat his crayons afterward. One of his closest friends is an older elephant with motherly attributes and a bad foot injury. She "...remembers every moment since she was born: every scent, every sunset, every slight, every victory," (Applegate 53). Bob is another best friend of Ivan who is a small stray dog with a troubled past. He has a definite chip on his shoulders and enjoys sleeping on Ivan's belly. It is safe to say that the animals are unhappy going through their mundane lives of performing for humans and being stared at through glass.
Mack is the owner of the establishment and the only real father that Ivan has ever had even though he treats him badly. George is the custodian for the mall and has a daughter named Julia who loves Ivan as much as he loves her. She is a fellow artist and the two have an unbreakable connection. Julia accompanies her father to work and completes her homework while talking with the animals. One day, a new baby elephant named Ruby arrives to the shock of the other animals. Stella actually re-injures her foot trying to get Ruby out of the truck and welcomed into her new home. Stella quickly takes the role of mother on for Ruby as she settles into her home. Ruby is a naive, kind baby elephant that desperately misses her family. We find out that her family was slaughtered by humans. Sadly, Stella ends up passing away because of her foot injury and Mack's negligence to call a doctor. But before she dies she makes Ivan promise he will take care of Ruby and get her out of the mall and into a real home, like a zoo. The people and animals are obviously very saddened by their dear friend's death. Then Ivan decides to stop complaining and start doing something! Julia gives him finger paints and he begins making a puzzle that says "HOME" and painted a picture of a zoo. Julia picked up on the symbol after much huffing and puffing from Ivan and is amazed by his talents! She realizes that Ivan is trying to tell her that Ruby needs to go to the zoo. So, Julie and her father George hang up Ivan's paintings on the infamous billboard to attract more visitors. As visitors arrive, so does a news reporter and begins taking pictures of the establishment and treatment of the animals. Eventually the mall gets closed down (Yay!) and the animals will be transported to the zoo! They are very nervous but as soon as they arrive Ruby is put in with other elephants and Ivan with other gorillas. They are both very happy. Then one day Julia arrives to visit with Bob and her father and Ivan realizes that EVERYONE has a happy ending! He kept his promise to Stella, Ruby is safe, and he is finally the Silverback he always wanted to be.
There are some illustrations in the text also that are simple and charcoal reminiscent. The "chapters" are very short and the text is very spread out which is the perfect example of how one might imagine a gorilla speaks. I also enjoyed the author's note at the end of the book that explained the inspiration for the story. I think children would be equally fascinated to hear the explanation!