Book Review- Water for Elephants

Since we just FINALLY watched The Greatest Showman (AMAZING MOVIE, EVEN MORE AMAZING SOUNDTRACK!), I figured I’d review another circus-inspired piece of work…

Water For Elephants (2006)

By Sara Gruen

Historical Fiction, Romance

Book Summary

Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.

By morning, he’s landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he’s in love.

In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all…

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Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I was hooked from beginning to end. If I’m being honest, I’ve never actually been to the circus (not really a fan of clowns), but I was seriously fascinated by it all. I found myself wanting to go, but, at the same time, the cruelty and reality of that life made me feel like I didn’t really want to go. Granted, I understand times are different (although there was still tons of controversy over animal treatment), but it was just a really powerful depiction of that lifestyle, and I loved it. I really liked that each character became stronger- like they all grew… well, except for August, but every story needs a good antagonist.

4.5 stars

There were a couple of moments that felt a little slow, and I wanted a stronger Marlena.  I know her character was a reflection of the times, but I love strong female leads.  Either way, I was still all about this book. I loved how it was written, and the description of circus life. It was seriously never anything I had ever thought about before this book, and I loved seeing the cruel world behind the Big Top. It definitely reminds you that perspective is everything and that animals remember, so don’t be an abusive ass to them.

On that topic, the cruelty towards animals was hard for me (it always is), but it was definitely written in a way that you FELT that anger and hate for the characters abusing the animals. I STILL HATE August despite him being fictional, and it was that passionate hate for him that made the ending that much sweeter. He was a very strong villain, and I think Gruen developed him extremely well… but I still hate him.  Love the book.  Hate August.

Favorite Quotes

“…at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.”

“When two people are meant to be together, they will be together. It’s fate.”

“The more distressing the memory, the more persistent its presence.”

“Although there are times I’d give anything to have her back, I’m glad she went first. Losing her was like being cleft down the middle. It was the moment it all ended for me, and I wouldn’t have wanted her to go through that. Being the survivor stinks.”

“Life is the greatest show on earth!”

“Now, I’m no virgin to liquor, but moonshine is another beast entirely. It burns hellfire through my chest and head.”

“Even in your twenties you know how old you are. I’m twenty-three, you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties something strange starts to happen. It’s a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I’m – you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you’re not. You’re thirty-five. And then you’re bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it’s decades before you admit it.”


There is no book series to this one- it’s a standalone novel.  But, there is a movie (click here!), and I rather enjoyed it.  I actually watched the movie before I knew it was a book, and then immediately went and got the book.  Sometimes the movie industry butchers your favorite books (*coughThe Maze Runnercough*); I don’t think they did that here.

-The MF

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