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Water for Elephants Review

Rating: 10/10

Books Like This: The Night Circus, The Help

For People Who Like: Historical Fiction, Romance, High-stakes adventure, animals, circus


An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932, by the bestselling author of Riding Lessons.

When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.


So, I actually watched the movie that was based off of this book before I read the book. And surprisingly, it wasn't the worst thing. What I mean by that is that the book wasn't that different/better or worse then the movie. They kept most of the main plot and just changed the present day plot a little bit. Anyway, I watched the movie with Robert Pattison and Reese Witherspoon and it was really good so I got the book.


I loved, LOVED this book. First, I want to talk about the present day plot and then I'll dive into the actually plot of the story.

So, the present day plot is that Jacob is either 90 or 93 (he can't remember), he's struggling with accepting his aging and he hates living in a nursing home. This plot has led to the best old-people, nursing home jokes I have ever heard in a book. I mean I had to put the book down a couple of times cause I was giggling to myself so hard. And I thought it was really sad (and hilarious) that Jacob doesn't see himself as an old person and is surprised when he realizes he's old sometimes. But anyway, there's a circus that's coming to the nursing home and he wants to see it which is where we are introduced to his life story.

Now, the plot of the story (which is delivered through Jacob's dreams) is that Jacob has just lost his parents in a car accident and he gets the news while taking his exams to be a certified vet. He feels pretty lost and ends up on a circus train. He then works for the owner of the train as a poop scooper and eventually Uncle Al (the owner of the circus) finds out that he is a vet so he takes care of the animals for the rest of the book. There is also Marlena who has a performance with the horses and later the elephant for the circus. She is married to August who is very bipolar (that's the best way I can describe him). I really liked the way that the author portrayed August when he was in his charming state of mind and when he was in his violent and intense state of mind.

I don't really have a lot to say about this book for some reason. Maybe because I knew what happened because I watched the movie. I will say something though, the end was very satisfying for multiple reasons and in both of the plots of the book (present and past). The romance wasn't overwhelmingly intense or anything, it was a pretty realistic love story, which isn't a bad thing, it's just not...I don't know, it just didn't seem that important compared to the other aspects of the story. I did really enjoy reading this book. Nothing was really "nock your socks off" surprising, but it was a good read.

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