water for elephants book cover

Book Review: Water For Elephants

I know it has been a while since I last submited a review! But this time we have a special guest reviewer! Stephanie Gauthia is my friend, educator and fellow book lover. While she often focuses more on children’s stories (she actually helped point in the direction of this recently reviewed children’s book about the loss of a pet) she couldn’t help but review one of her favorite books: Water For Elephants. Animal stories are always close to both of our hearts. You can find out more about Stephanie by checking out her Twitter.


Water For Elephants, which was written by Sara Gruen, tells the life story of Jacob Jankowski. Water For Elephants is narrated by an elderly Jacob, who reminisces about his decision to quit veterinary training at Cornell University, after his parents’ untimely death.


At the start of the book, readers follow Jacob’s story as a bright-eyed 22-year-old Jacob ends up running away with the circus and falling in love with Marlena, the circus’ star performer. However, Jacob and Marlena’s romance is anything but smooth sailing as Marlena, who happens to be married to August, the circus’ equestrian trainer, is hiding a dark secret or two. Can Jacob and Marlena’s love triumph over the dark challenges that face them? You’ll have to start reading, to find out.


While Water For Elephants is at heart a historical romance, which uses a traveling circus as a backdrop, it’s also worth reading if you’d like to read about what goes on behind the scenes of a circus. As you follow Jacob’s page gripping tale, you’ll get to vicariously discover what it may have been like, to run away and join the circus, in Depression-era America. A time period which tested every American, from businessman to circus performer.


While Water For Elephant definitely features plenty of glitz and glamour, Sara Gruen beautifully paints a picture of the two sides of a circus. The glitz and glamour and the dirty reality of circus life. While the circus may not seem like anything special, when the lights go on and the crowds arrive at the big top, Jacob and Marlena’s circus truly comes to life. Thanks to Gruen’s vivid descriptions.


Gruen also achieves a remarkable feat in creating a sense of dread and magic, which seems to be waiting behind each turn of your page. You’ll never know what to expect magic or terror, which creates a sense of suspense, that never wanes.


While Jacob’s story definitely takes center stage, each character has depth and has a side story to tell. You’ll follow the story of Uncle Al, the psychotic owner of Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, who is reported to throw performers who he is unhappy with off a moving train and Kinko, a dwarf who shares Jacob’s tight living quarters.


Another key character who you’ll grow to love is Rosie, an elephant who is purchased from another circus, to perform with Marlena as the circus’ main attraction. If you love animals who have a larger than life personality, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with Rosie. However, it may pay to have tissues on hand as Rosie faces as many challenges and obstacles and Jacob and Marlena.


If you’re looking for a light-hearted read about a circus, where everyone gets on, you may want to opt for another book. However, if you’re looking for a riveting story which boasts plenty of drama, romance, and intrigue and you have a soft spot for historical novels, it may be time to run away with the circus and pick up or download a copy of Water For Elephants.


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