water for elephants by s gruen

Each sentence…no, every word in the 300+ pages bound in this book was a magnificent mile that brought me closer to the adrenaline rush felt at the finish line. I almost clapped my hands as I closed the book because I was fully absorbed by it’s vivid and captivating details from the very first chapter.

The story begins at the prologue with a graphic and violent murder that Jacob Jankowski witnesses during a stampede at the Circus. So throughout the entire book, you’re trying to figure out who did what, when, and how. He learns that his parents are killed in an accident shortly days before taking his final veterinarian exam at Cornell. He not only walks out from his receiving the degree; he wanders off to find himself jumping in a passing train to escape and cope with the traumatizing reality. The train, little does he know, is a second-rate circus train carrying hundreds of animals, workers and performers. He eventually is appointed as the “circus vet” who overlooks the menagerie. Jacob’s adventure of meeting freaky to faithful people, falling in love with a married equestrian, and making sacrifices set during the Great Depression is as colorful and vibrant as the circus. The author tastefully incorporates present-time narrative that invites you closer to the main character and his emotional holocaust.

I am not a big circus-or-animal-fiction fan (not that this book is about animals) but this story is so compelling that you experience almost every kind of emotion, kind of like Big Fish meets Love Actually. One minute you’re laughing, the other you’re cringing and heart-aching. Sara Gruen reminds us that there are so many different kinds of love and faith, and she doesn’t halt her creativity as she continues to engage with murder, sex, and suspense throughout the book. Water For Elephants is a definite two thumbs up!

dee’s recommendation: 5/5