Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Sara Gruen Water for Elephants

331 pp.  Algonquin Books  2006

Summary (From Goodreads): Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out – orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive ‘ship of fools’. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn’t have an act – in fact, she couldn’t even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

This is a beautiful book.  I don’t usually read adult best sellers because I’m too busy reading YA.  But I read Water for Elephants for a couple of reasons.  First, one of my avid readers read it and recommended that I do the same and let me borrow her copy.  Second, a couple of my YA students chose to read it for the Books to Movies project.  I also plan on going to see the movie!  (I love Reese Witherspoon!)

What I’m used to reading in best sellers is a lot of lengthy, flowery descriptions.  Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, however, has this balanced perfectly.  I could tell this wasn’t published as YA, but it read so easily.  The details she uses are excellent and never over-done.  Sara Gruen’s writing in this book left me yearning for more, even after I finished reading it.  She’s incredibly gifted and I’d be happy to read more of her books.

The story itself was completely addicting.  Jacob is a well-developed character that I enjoyed as both a young and old man.  It was fun reading him as a grumpy, forgetful old man, and as a caring, tough, and thoughtful young man.  And as much as I loved Jacob, I couldn’t get enough of minor characters like Walter and even Rosie.

Water for Elephants is a book I know I’ll read more than once because it’s timeless.  Its themes of love and overcoming obstacles will resonate with many readers–old and young, male and female.  I strongly recommend reading this gorgeous, timeless novel.


  1. I really liked this book, too. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I remember feeling drawn in by Jacob and so touched by moments in his old-age life that felt so real. I’m not sure what to think about the movie. I can’t picture Robert Pattison as anything but a vampire in bad makeup. Guess we’ll see. 🙂

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      This will be the first movie I’ve seen Robert Pattison in since the Twilight movies, so it will be interesting!

  2. I am going to see this movie this weekend and will probably end up reading the book as well. I don’t even know if I’ve read an adult book, haha, but it’s good to know that it’s an easy read still! Thanks for the review!!

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I pretty much stopped reading adult books in college, so it’s exciting when I find a good one! I hope you enjoy the movie and read the book too 🙂

  3. I’m reading this book now so I can read it before the movie. I agree with you- the writing flows very nicely and it is a great story. Hopefully the movie will do it justice!

  4. Tristan Bishop says:

    Im seeing this Saturday!

  5. I’m reading this right now, and I’m hoping that some of the sexual details (you know what I’m talking about) will be excluded. Think about the kids who’ll watch this for Robert Pattinson! I’m really hoping the movie will hold similar feel that I’m getting from reading the book now. I’m usually all for YA as well, but the writing isn’t lengthy like other contemp fic.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I imagine most of the stronger details will be left out- at least I hope so! I still haven’t gone to see it, but I need to soon 🙂

  6. Rachel Gilles says:

    I have heard a lot about this book/movie and it is next on my list to read!

  7. Jessica Keeler says:

    I read this book a couple of weeks ago and really liked it. It was nice to read about something that doesn’t typically happen.

  8. Omg this was such a good movie- it put me in tears. I went with my mom and my friend and we absoulutely loved it…its now officially my favorite movie. I thought Robert Pattinson did a great job in acting and the whole circus theme was all too real

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