Mishel Reviews: Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Release Date: May 2007 (First Published May 2006)

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Pages: 369 (Kindle Edition)

Author Site: http://saragruen.com/

My Rating: 4.75/5

Source: Amazon Borrowed

Cover: Eh – It’s alright. Not horrible, but it could have had some more added to it for some spunk.
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.

It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
I’d like to think one day, when I have nothing else to do but read until my heart’s content (which is probably impossible to do btw) I will re-read every book that has hit my favorites list. Honestly though with all the newly discovered titles, authors, backlists, series, etc I fear I’ll never get to revisit my beloveds anytime soon. But when (and if) that day comes, Water for Elephants will be on that list!

I’ve never really been a big circus fan – reading about them or attending them, but I liked the atmosphere of circus life of the 1930s. It is both beautiful and gritty in detail. After reading this I must read more Great Depression era books. I can’t imagine how hard it was to live in that time period and I find it fascinating and frightening.

Bouncing between young and old Jacob’s POV was actually a great way to read the novel. I felt as if I was re-living Jacob’s memories as he did, rather than being told a story.  Jacob is utterly honest and humble as a young man and it’s hard not to like his character. Harsh reality is thrust upon him after he tragically loses his parents and is forced to find a way to survive without money or family. Normal life is hard but living life under the famous Benzini Brothers’ big top is even harder. Despite elderly Jacob being extremely (and understandably) cranky (I probably wouldn’t want to be around him – family or not) Gruen does a spectacular job portraying his life and state of mind at the assisted living facility.

Gruen actually does a spectacular job at a lot of things. She delivers a cast of characters that become just as important to me as Jacob, Marlena, and even Rosie, the larger-than-life elephant that is supposed to save the Benzini Brothers show from biting the dust. The characters are really the hands-down winner for me in this story. But it certainly was coupled with some amazing story-telling.

I think I didn’t give this one a solid 5 stars because the ending didn’t quite sit well with me. While I’m glad of the outcome for Jacob I felt the HEA was sort of – slapped on, for lack of a better term. Kind of like “Come on, let’s hurry and wrap it up here” ending…if that makes sense. It’s happy (which made me happy; I happen to really like Jacob). Maybe a little too convenient for my tastes though. However, I have a hunch that if the ending were any different I’d still have a problem with it. Maybe I just didn’t want Jacob’s story to end *shrugs* …Definitely a good thing about a book, if you ask me!

As a side note I have not seen the movie adaptation but I want to. Nothing could really ruin the story for me but I’d hope the movie did some sort of justice to the book. 


24 thoughts on “Mishel Reviews: Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

  1. Jenny Girl says:

    I try to make time for re-reads when I can, but I always end up viewing something differently about the book, or having a different reaction or something. Glad this one continued to please on the re-read!

  2. Lexi H says:

    Huh, makes me think I should try this out. I tend to stay away from books that go viral and turn into movies. Especially ones that don't center around an event that interests me, like the circus. Now though, I will have to track it down.

  3. Teddyree says:

    Glad it makes your favourite list. This one has been waiting patiently for me for a few years, I bought it after seeing heaps of rave reviews. Must get to it!!

  4. Mishel says:

    I have a so-so relationship with mainstream or viral books. I do really love when a book lives up to all the hype though =D If you ever read it let me know if you like it.

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