eBook Borrowing Limit increased! We've doubled the number of eBooks and eAudiobooks you can borrow from 10 to 20.  You may also place up to 20 holds.  Search the catalogue or go directly to the digital collection.
New Digital Magazines!  Allure, The Atlantic, Better Homes & Gardens, Bon Appetit, Glamour, GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and more.  No waiting!  Available on most devices.  Start reading now!
Please note: The library schedules nightly maintenance from 1:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. that may affect the customer's ability to use our catalogue and digital resources.  Please check our web site for more details.

Water for Elephants

A Novel

Gruen, Sara

(Book - 2011)
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Water for Elephants
Orphaned and penniless at the height of the Depression, Jacob Jankowski escapes everything he knows by jumping on a passing train--and inadvertently runs away with the circus. So begins Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen's darkly beautiful tale about the characters who inhabit the less-than-greatest show on earth. Jacob finds a place tending the circus animals, including a seemingly untrainable elephant named Rosie. He also comes to know Marlena, the star of the equestrian act--and wife of August, a charismatic but cruel animal trainer. Caught between his love for Marlena and his need to belong in the crazy family of travelling performers, Jacob is freed only by a murderous secret that will bring the big top down. Water for Elephants is an enchanting page-turner, the kind of book that creates a world that engulfs you from the first page to the last. A national bestseller in Canada and a New York Times bestseller in the United States, this is a book destined to become a beloved fiction classic.
Publisher: Toronto, ON : Harper Perennial, 2011, c2006.
Edition: 1st Harper Perennial trade pbk. ed.
ISBN: 9781443406284
Branch Call Number: GRU
Characteristics: 335 p. : ill. ; 21 cm.


Community Activity


Add a Comment

Dec 20, 2014
  • Chapel_Hill_KenMc rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Great story of love and revenge in a depression-era circus. Fascinating setting and characters.

“Water for Elephants” follows 98-year old Jacob Jankowski as he remembers his life working at a circus during the Great Depression. The story is told through a series of lengthy flashbacks, and switches between Jacob’s current position at a nursing home, and his adventures with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. While working at the circus, Jacob must deal with his increasing feelings for Marlena, the equestrian showgirl, and her horrible husband. Jacob also must live under the constant threat of being ‘redlighted’ (thrown off the circus’s train as they hurtle down the tracks), as the circus is quickly going broke. Though, when the ringleader of the circus purchases a young elephant, it seems as though the circus is saved. That is, of course, only until everyone realizes the elephant may be a larger hindrance than it is help.

This is a fun, interesting novel. “Water for Elephants” can be considered a historical adventure novel. It is full of witty characters that are all different from one another. The settings are extremely well researched, and help to bring the story alive. Since the novel is about a travelling circus, the setting changes frequently. This only adds to the novel, as it gives the book a sense of longing, adventure, and freedom. The plot is slightly dull in some spots but, overall it is entertaining. The slowness of some sections is made up for by the various characters large personalities, and the ever-changing setting. Readers shouldn’t allow the thought of potentially dull spots drive them away from “Water for Elephants”.

Overall, “Water for Elephants” is an alright, entertaining read. The author of this review does recommend this novel, as readers can learn much about traveling circuses, animal care, and the different types of romance. It is a good pleasure read, and while it could be used as an ‘essay novel’ or ‘book talk’, readers may need to squint a bit to find deeper meanings. Due to some sexual themes, the author of this review believes “Water for Elephants” to be suitable for ages thirteen and up.

Aug 31, 2014
  • DeltaQueen50 rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

I loved many things about this book, both the side characters and animals that peopled this story were memorable, the setting was fantastic, the story was inventive. For me the book’s downfall was in the romance. I just didn’t find Jacob and Marlena a believable couple. I did like the format of hearing about Jacob’s youth from his ninety-three year old self and I though the ending was fun but a little contrived. Water for Elephants was a good read but not a great one.

May 25, 2014
  • amyrk2 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

I'm so in love with the story, Sara's poignant writing style, and how it hit me so deeply.

I'm going to buy a copy to read again and give to my children someday.

A stunning read!

Jan 29, 2014
  • Bandit10 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

I loved it.

Jan 28, 2014
  • JackieFC13 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

I loved this book!! There were a few parts that were intense but it was a really good book :)

Jan 20, 2014
  • LexiLou2 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.


Nov 28, 2013
  • EPalmer2295 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

What a beautiful story! The two different takes on narration--old man Jacob and his younger self--really added to the book and made it more of a testament to aging and how we decide to live our lives. Get busy living or get busy dying!

Jul 24, 2013
  • craftr2 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

One of my favorites, and that is saying a lot.

Jun 22, 2013
  • WVMLBookClubTitles rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Ninety years old and in a nursing home, Jacob recalls working for the Benzini circus in the 1930s—”the Greatest Show on Earth!” Because of his almost veterinarian status, he becomes the animal keeper. This is a book full of conflict, hope, despair, love and trust.

View All Comments

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

Jun 03, 2013
  • rachelhoback rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

rachelhoback thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 13 and 56

Sep 19, 2012
  • friendlyfaceca rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

friendlyfaceca thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Aug 08, 2012
  • Michelle M. Veilleux rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Michelle M. Veilleux thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

May 29, 2012
  • Keep_On_Rockin rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Keep_On_Rockin thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over

May 13, 2012
  • violet_ant_88 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

violet_ant_88 thinks this title is suitable for 11 years and over

Mar 04, 2012
  • corrabelle rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

corrabelle thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

Feb 13, 2012
  • Blue_Eagle_181 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Blue_Eagle_181 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Jan 06, 2012
  • b_xy_p rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

b_xy_p thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

Nov 25, 2011
  • Black_Cheetah_38 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Black_Cheetah_38 thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Oct 21, 2011
  • bookworm356 rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

bookworm356 thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

View All Ages


Add a Notice

Jun 03, 2013
  • rachelhoback rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Sexual Content: alot of sexual content,

Jun 03, 2013
  • rachelhoback rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Violence: fighting, blood, nothing too bad but may be frightening to young people

Jun 03, 2013
  • rachelhoback rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Coarse Language: profanity is largely used

Feb 10, 2011
  • imaginethat rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Sexual Content: This title contains Sexual Content.

Feb 10, 2011
  • imaginethat rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Coarse Language: This title contains Coarse Language.


Add a Summary

Jan 06, 2012
  • b_xy_p rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Jacob Jankowski is just a normal, young adult that is studying at college to become a vet. However, everything changes when both his parents died. Homeless and without any money, Jacob takes his chances by jumping onto a passing train. There he is welcomed as a vet for the animals. As the days go on, he's become great friends with August, a circus boss, and his wife Marlena, a performer. Slowly Jacob begins to fall in love with Marlena and hate August for his cruelty to the animals and other men. Meanwhile, the circus buys an elephant named Rosie, who at first seemed stupid and worthless, was soon a main act of the show, thanks to Jacob. Then August accuses Jacob and Marlena of having an affair behind his back, which made him go into a madmen state, beating up Jacob and hitting his own wife. Suffering enough of the abuse, Marlena divorces him and Jacob was there immediately to support her. As Uncle Al (overall circus manager) realizes that August is becoming difficult to work with due to his hate for himself because of what he did to Marlena and Jacob, he forces Jacob to try to get Marlena and August back together. However, Jacob doesn’t follow the command, still having affairs with Marlena, but when his two close friends gets 'redlighted', he realizes that Uncle Al was going after him. Luckily enough, a terrible stampede happened on the next circus act, leaving many of the workers homeless, and August and Uncle Al dead. Jacob immediately marries Marlena and decide to join Ringling's circus, where they had their first child. As the story goes, another story unfolding as well - the one with Jacob as ninety or ninety three (it's a debate throughout the book) reflecting on what happened through his life in the circus and his life now, in a nursing home with others of his own age or younger. In the end, even though no one came to visit Jacob and take him to the circus near the senior’s home, Jacob was determined and arrived at the circus on his own. There, he meets the manager of the circus who listens to his story and offers him a job in the circus as a ticket holder, and never does Jacob go back to the nursing home.

Sep 05, 2008
  • Carolyne rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

After accidentally running away with the circus, a young man finds danger, happiness, love, friendship and his future among the animals.


Add a Quote

Jun 05, 2012
  • busyinbillspants rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

"I want her to melt into me, like butter on toast. I want to absorb her and walk around for the rest of my days with her encased in my skin. I lie motionless, savoring the feeling of her body against mine. I'm afraid to breathe in case I break the spell.”

Find it at HPL


Powered by BiblioCommons.
app02 Version gurli Last updated 2014/12/09 10:52