Why I Liked Water for Elephants (A Book Review)

Please do not judge this book based on the fact that Robert Pattinson has been cast as the main character in the upcoming movie.  This book is so far beyond the quality of Twilight, they really can’t even be compared.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to the actual book.  I feel like a number of people have recommended Water for Elephants to me over the past few years and I know that I picked up at the bookstore a number of times, but each time I would look at it, I would think, “Circus people?  Really?”  Then I would put it back on the shelf and buy something else that didn’t seem quite so weird.

Yes, this is a book about circus people, but more than that, it is a book about people.  It’s a book about building relationships and the interactions between people.  The fact that all these people are traveling around on trains, taking care of giraffes and chimps and elephants, just gives us a wider variety of people to follow and makes their interactions that much more interesting.  The heroes are characters who treat all people (and animals) as if they have value, no matter what their job or history is, while the villains are those who refuse to treat others with dignity.

The main character is Jacob Jankowski, a cantankerous old man stuck in an “assisted living facility.”  When a circus pulls up across the street, he is sent down memory lane, reliving his time taking care of the menagerie with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  His story is definitely a coming-of-age story, where a sheltered young man gets exposed to the gritty realities of the wider world, but it is also a hopeful story, where there is the opportunity for the good guys to come out on top.

The novel is by Sara Gruen, who initially wrote it as part of National Novel Writing Month, which totally amazes me.  She sucks you into the world of the depression-era circus, and it’s clear that she’s done her research.  It’s been quite a while since I read a book that I just couldn’t put down, so consider it high praise when I tell you I stayed up way past my bedtime multiple nights in a row because I didn’t want to stop reading.

The movie comes out in April, so you might want to read it before then.  We all know that the book is always better than the movie  :)

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