Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
A Novel

82%

52 Critic Reviews

Sara Gruen filled Water for Elephants to the brim with the pure ecstasy that is a traveling circus. Her novel is raw and gritty to the core as it releases the truth behind the curtain...
-Blog Critics

Synopsis

Over 10,000,000 copies in print worldwide
#1 New York Times Bestseller
A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
A Wall Street Journal Bestseller
A Newsday Favorite Book of 2006
A USA Today Bestseller
A Major Motion Picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz
 
Jacob Janowski’s luck had run out--orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was the Great Depression and for Jacob the circus was both his salvation and a living hell. There he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but brutal animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this group of misfits was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

 

About Sara Gruen

See more books from this Author
SARA GRUEN is the best selling author of Riding Lessons and Water for Elephants. She is an animal lover who lives with her husband, three children, five cats, two goats, a dog, and a horse in an environmentalist community north of Chicago.
 
Published May 1, 2007 by Algonquin Books. 364 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, History, Romance. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Mar 27 2011
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Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
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Critic reviews for Water for Elephants
All: 52 | Positive: 45 | Negative: 7

Kirkus

Below average
on May 20 2010

...the plot gradually bogs down in melodrama and disintegrates by its almost saccharine ending. Despite genuine talent, Gruen misses the mark.

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Publishers Weekly

Above average
on Mar 12 2016

Despite her often clichéd prose and the predictability of the story's ending, Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by ELIZABETH JUDD on Jun 04 2008

With a showman's expert timing, she saves a terrific revelation for the final pages, transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist fairy tale.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Rachael on Jul 04 2011

Water for Elephants is fun, sweet and thrilling and will pull you into the mysterious life of the circus so far that you won't want to leave.

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Publishers Weekly

Above average
on Mar 06 2008

...Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book.

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Blog Critics

Excellent
Reviewed by Sarah Thomas on Sep 13 2010

Sara Gruen filled Water for Elephants to the brim with the pure ecstasy that is a traveling circus. Her novel is raw and gritty to the core as it releases the truth behind the curtain...

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Veronique De Turennesara Gruen on Jul 05 2006

Sarah Gruen sets her story among the freaks and geeks and captive animals of a traveling circus during the Great Depression...It's the set-up of a terrific secret that Gruen...saves for the grand finale. She ratchets up the tension bit by tiny bit, luring us into the weird world of the roustabout and the candy butcher...

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Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Gerianne Bartlett on Jun 29 2012

The characters seem inherently human, and you will be drawn to their squabbles, their suffering, and their kindness. Gruen's characters are 3-D; they truly come to life on the page.

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Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Katherine Cowie on Jun 23 2011

Gruen's prose is descriptive without being overly flowery, tight, and concise. "Water for Elephants" is an engrossing novel that leaves the reader panting in anticipation of another novel.

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Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Angelica Barrera on Jan 26 2011

Gruen writes with such ease that it is comparable listening to a great storyteller instead of reading a well-crafted, meticulously written novel of American nostalgia.

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Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Elizabeth Provenzano on Jan 11 2011

Water for Elephants is one of the most enchanting books you will read. It whisks you back in time to an era not known for its beauty, and shows you how captivating a little mystery can be.

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Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Juanita Galindo on Dec 28 2010

Gruen’s novel is filled with vivid imagery, whether it’s the colorful, smelly circus settings or the pale, disinfectant-filled air of Jacob’s nursing home.

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Examiner

Below average
Reviewed by Sean Chumley on Dec 09 2009

...I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by the novel. I didn't feel unable to put this novel down...There is very little advancement in the plot. Instead, the novel tends to dither.

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Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Cheyenne Robertson on Nov 10 2009

The book is beautifully and vividly written, the characters well developed and easy to love (or hate as the case may be) and the animals' antics, especially Rosie, will make you laugh out loud.

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Book Reporter

Excellent
Reviewed by Jennifer Krieger on Jan 24 2011

With lines of startling beauty, haunting and evocative scenes and finely-drawn characters who dance off the page, readers can dip in and out of the novel, immersing themselves in Jacob's memories.

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AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Tasha Robinson on Jun 28 2008

...a fascinating setting and a richly anecdotal story that's enjoyable right up to the final, inevitable revelation.

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Entertainment Weekly

Above average
Reviewed by Jennifer Reese on Jun 02 2008

... the sprightly tale has a ringmaster's crowd-pleasing pace.

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Booklist Online

Above average
Reviewed by Marta Segal Block on Feb 18 2013

...just like a circus, the magic of the story and the writing convince you to suspend your disbelief.

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Suite 101

Good
Reviewed by Cheryn Tan on Nov 15 2009

...Water for Elephants is a simple but charming tale, a pleasant read for a lazy weekend afternoon.

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Pajiba

Above average
on Feb 18 2013

...a bit too simple to make a great book, but it does make for a good one.

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Historical Novel Society

Above average
Reviewed by Patrika Salmon on Aug 01 2008

A lot of research went into the writing of Water for Elephants. The book is illustrated with original photographs from the circus world of the 1930s, which add to the enjoyment and reality of an incredible story.

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About.com Bestsellers

Excellent
Reviewed by Erin Collazo Miller on Feb 18 2013

...it is impossible not to become attached to Jacob, Walter, Bobo, Rosie, Marlena.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Pam Norfolk on May 16 2011

Water for Elephants is a superb rollercoaster adventure...glitzy, glamorous, moving and surprisingly uplifting.

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Paste

Above average
Reviewed by Thomas Bell on Jul 11 2006

Water for Elephants is told through the recollections of Jacob...The novel sometimes suffers from the narrator’s growly, pedantic need to educate all the fools who don’t understand how a real circus works...But on the whole, this tragedy of Polish pachyderms and psycho circus performers is an accomplished addition to Gruen’s bookshelf menagerie.

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Persephone Magazine

Good
Reviewed by Noëlle on Jun 15 2011

For interested readers rooting for a satisfying ending, Water for Elephants succeeds.

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Parade

Excellent
Reviewed by Christie Emden on Feb 18 2013

It’s a timeless story with deep and engaging characters.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by Leslie M on May 10 2015

Characterization is, without a doubt, Gruen’s forté. The characters are immensely real and evoke passionate feelings...Water for Elephants is the perfect read for anyone who likes a good love story. Those who enjoy reading about relationships would feel right at home as well.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by penandpaper67 on May 09 2015

Gruen manages to capture the distant world of a small 1930s circus with flowing narration, clear-cut prose, and spectacular attention to detail...This book gave me the best visual and emotional experience I have ever had from a novel. The intensity of Jacob's love for Marlena, his fear of August...translate magnificently into words.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by caroline2015 on Feb 18 2013

Sara Gruen shows the marvel and dread of circus life. I really enjoyed the glimpses into the past through the photos of old circuses found between the chapters.

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Helium

Good
Reviewed by Timothy Taylor on Jul 27 2011

The narrative moves quickly and will keep readers turning the pages. It even has a few clever twists that will surprise you.

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Helium

Excellent
Reviewed by Mary E on Aug 05 2010

Gruen's cast of characters is unforgettable and will stay with readers for years after they've set down Water for Elephants.

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Helium

Good
Reviewed by Peggy Durako on Nov 03 2009

It is a fascinating book that tells of the complexity of love and life.

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Gather Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Tony Peters on Nov 05 2011

The characters jumped off of every page. They were very well done. The circus setting was unique, as you do not see many books about the circus, keeping this one fresh.

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Gather Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Mary M. on Oct 19 2008

This is one of those books I just couldn't put down, and that I found myself making time for so I could get back in the midst of the story.

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The Bookpushers

Excellent
Reviewed by Ying on Apr 01 2010

For me, Water for Elephants is the kind of book that will stay with you for a long time after you have read it...Ms Gruen has a gift of bringing characters to life. I felt like I was transported back in the time when I read this book. I love it so much I bought a paperback version so that I could give it to my family to read too.

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Reading Lark

Excellent
Reviewed by Julie on Jan 07 2014

It's grand. It's epic. And it's wonderfully engrossing...An epic story of love, family, and honor that will leave you thinking about it and its characters for weeks, months, and likely years to come. It does have a few scenes that are mature in nature, but I find it resonates with mature HS students just as much as it does with adults.

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Jules' Book Reviews

Good
Reviewed by Jules on Oct 31 2010

I don’t know why it has taken as long to read this book as it did, but I couldn’t put it down. I was pulled into the life of the circus, and of Jacob life - both past and present...This book is amazing....Just bring the tissue, the ending is very touching. It isn’t for everyone, but I think the majority of readers would enjoy the book.

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The Blue Bookcase

Above average
Reviewed by ConnieGirl on Feb 07 2011

it wasn't my FAVORITE, but I'd still stick it on the shelf...If you read books primarily for depth of characters, don't bother. If you simply want to immerse yourself in a traveling circus, go right on ahead with this one.

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Sophisticated Dorkiness

Good
Reviewed by Kim Ukura on Apr 22 2010

The best part of the story is how much research Gruen did to make sure her descriptions of what it was like to be in the circus were accurate and entertaining...In addition, Gruen’s tone and style throughout the book are spot on... I actually think it would make a great summer read...Water for Elephants is definitely recommended.

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Book Addiction

Excellent
Reviewed by Heather on May 13 2008

Hands down, one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I was utterly captivated by this story, by Jacob’s story, by the amazing animals, especially Rosie the elephant, the crazy Uncle Al and the even crazier August, and the enchanting Marlena...I strongly recommend reading this book, it will captivate you as it did me...

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Literary Treats

Above average
Reviewed by Jaclyn on May 11 2011

...was an utter delight to read, and I found myself zipping through it...The appeal of any circus story is the cast of characters, and Gruen certainly peppers this book with a colourful bunch...Elephants moves from Jacob’s time in the circus to Jacob at ninety...He clearly misses the excitement...and by the end of this book, you will too.

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The Lit B***h

Above average
Reviewed by The Lit Bitch on Jun 29 2012

While this book had it’s good points, for me, something was wanting in the passion/chemistry department. It was a fast read and placated my need to read something more adult and contemporary but in the end I simply wanted more.

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Quill & Quire

Good
on May 10 2015

Water for Elephants is a heartfelt, entertaining, and poignant story of a bygone era and of a world that represents the full experience of the human condition, from the bleakest sadness to the most riotous humour, from intolerable cruelty to unconditional kindness.

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Good Book Fairy

Good
Reviewed by Good Book Fairy on Mar 31 2014

This book offered a new face to the circus and the people that make it what it is. Many stereotypes were dismantled and some were confirmed...Well-done character development and descriptions of Depression era America fill these pages.

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The Bluestocking Society

Above average
Reviewed by Jessica Anderson on Sep 26 2008

While I admired the setting and the writing, the plot just didn’t completely come together for me. I enjoyed it but felt a distance from the characters...Even the happy ending didn’t touch me like I felt it should have...It’s probably worth the read for the circus setting alone.

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Simply Books

Above average
Reviewed by Simply_Megan on May 17 2011

I liked that the narrative is split between Jacob in his 20s and then Jacob in his 90s. It was neat to see where Jacob ended up with his life, but I would have All in all, I didn't hate nor love Water For Elephants, I merely liked it, which is a little disappointing.

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Where Pen Meets Paper

Good
Reviewed by Donovan Richards on Dec 13 2010

Water for Elephants is an entertaining-but-flawed read. The carefully researched depiction of the circus industry truly immerses the reader in an historical setting...Nevertheless, the book entertained me and I recommend it to those interested specifically in the dirty and gritty stories of the Depression era circus industry.

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Early Nerd Special

Good
Reviewed by Clementine Bojangles on Apr 29 2011

Sara Gruen’s novel about circus life in the 1930s is richly imagined. The attention to detail regarding vernacular, the rigid caste system, and the daily minutiae of circus life indicate a devotion to the story...Gruen’s prose often feels rushed...That being said, this is an entertaining novel...Recommended for fans of historical fiction.

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The Independent Review

Above average
Reviewed by Kelsey on Apr 15 2011

...when I started reading it today, I found that I couldn’t put it down. And after finishing it, I was almost moved to tears. Not very many books are able to do that to me...I couldn’t get over how real the characters were...

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http://www.theepochtimes.com

Above average
Reviewed by Patricia Chasteen on May 09 2011

Gruen has clearly spent a lot of time researching Depression-era circuses and how they impacted people’s lives...There is not a lot of beauty in this book; it’s graphic and tells a sad story for the most part. But the ending gives you a lift and shows that good triumphs over evil.

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Book Coasters

Good
Reviewed by Timothy on Dec 01 2009

...Gruen’s research into the world of circuses, both historical and those of today depicts a colourful and flamboyant group of characters and events.

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YA Love

Excellent
Reviewed by Mrs. Andersen on Apr 20 2011

The details she uses are excellent and never over-done. Sara Gruen’s writing in this book left me yearning for more...She’s incredibly gifted and I’d be happy to read more of her books...Its themes of love and overcoming obstacles will resonate with many readers...I strongly recommend reading this gorgeous, timeless novel.

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Reader Rating for Water for Elephants
85%

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