Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

19 Jul

Water for Elephants


The one unfortunate thing about being an English teacher, is that I rarely have time to read for enjoyment 9 months out of the year. It sounds a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it? Part of my job is to get teenagers “into” reading (not the easiest task!) & yet I very rarely find myself enjoying a book in my spare time. Lesson planning, grading, & other “teacher tasks” take up a good portion of my days during the school year, but one of my hopes for the coming school year is that I can start modeling what I hope to see from my students – reading for enjoyment & an escape from the “everyday.” That’s why I always loved English & reading so much in the first place! 🙂

I had heard a lot about Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, in the last few months; especially with the recent release of the movie. This book topped my list of “must reads” for this summer. I just finished it last week, & it was truly everything I expected it to be!

I was immediately intrigued by the book’s setting – 1920s United States, during Prohibition. I’ve always been fascinated by this time in history!

The main character, Jacob Jankowski, finds himself an “adult orphan,” if you will, just as he’s about to take his veterinary school final exams. Feeling lost after the death of both of his parents, Jacob finds a new “home” with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth – he is taken aboard this traveling circus to serve as the show’s veterinarian.

Water for Elephants(source)

While working for the circus, Jacob is forced to interact with August, the lead animal trainer. Jacob does not agree with Augusts’ training tactics, but is forced to be nice to his face because of Augusts’ power & unpredictable temperament.

Another reason why Jacob does not like August is because he becomes infatuated with Augusts’ wife, Marlena, who also works for the circus.

Water for Elephants(source)

I don’t want to give away too many of the details of the novel, but there are quite a few surprises that keep the reader both interested in the plot & invested in the characters.

One of my favorite things about the novel is how Gruen switches narrators – from 23-year-old Jacob, to 93-year-old Jacob. I love when author’s incorporate techniques like that; it keeps the reader engaged & helps them to get a more complete picture of who the character really is.

I would definitely recommend this book if you’re still looking to add to your own summer reading list!

Have you read Water for Elephants? Have you seen the movie? What’s one quality you look for when choosing a book to read?

Next up for me is The Hunger Games… I’ve heard nothing but great things about it!