What readers think of Water for Elephants, plus links to write your own review.

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Water for Elephants

A Novel

by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen X
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2006, 335 pages

    May 2007, 368 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book


Page 6 of 7
There are currently 52 reader reviews for Water for Elephants
Order Reviews by:

Write your own review!


Perhaps I demand too much from an author. For me, there was no depth to the characters, no development. As one reviewer said, characters were "one dimensional". This book had potential, but I feel it failed to achieve anything but the disclosure fo the cruel treatment of people and animals by circus owners and their unbelievable greed. While the past and present flip-flop of Jacob's life could have been clever, I felt there was a complete disconnect between the two.

Hard to believe
My willing suspension of disbelief just kept slipping away while reading this book. I found the contemporary speech patterns of the main character to very annoying. In order for me to continue reading I had to move it out of 1932. Beyond that, I could not believe that a guy about to graduate from Cornell would walk out of the final and join a circus. Nope, not even dead parents would make anyone do that.

The melodrama at the end, beaten to a pulp and jumping from train to train while its moving - just too hard to believe. The only thing in the book that I could believe was that none of his children or grandchildren wanted to move the Jacob out of the nursing home and into their care.
Power Reviewer

Don't waste my time
I rarely put a book away without finishing it. I am supposed to lead a discussion on this book (I took over as facilitator of a book club after it was chosen), and I regret to have to bow out this time. Some of the passages are disgusting and not necessary in their entirety for the story or the reader. I gave it a try, but it's not worth my time or worth the sleazy images it left in my mind for a while after reading them.

The only reason I give it a 2 instead of 1 is because the author does show some skill in plot structure. Over all, skip this one.
Gil Deane

This is a great book?
This book was hyped as something special...what a disappointment...the writing struck me as coming from an average high school person...the dialogue was predictable and the flow of the action equally so. The only thing that I found interesting was the
depiction of circus life.

My conclusion is ...don't waste your time.

P.S. The vintage photographs were interesting.

Plot that plods like an elephant
Did you ever ride a cheap carnival roller coaster, where you hear each gear ka-chunking into place as the car laboriously starts out along the teeny-tiny track. That is an apt metaphor for this book, carny setting and all. I was not surprised in the least to read an interview with the author in the back, wherein she explains that she fell in love with the world of depression-era circuses and contrived to write the novel about it. Every plot element and character is just that: contrived. The writing is clear and simple--kind of USA Today level--but no one in this book thinks or talks like people from the 1930s. As it so happens, I am a veterinarian from Cornell. In the book, Jacob’s Polish veterinarian (?!) father is killed in an automobile accident, leaving him destitute because his parents mortgaged their house to pay for his "ivy league" education. Did Ms Gruen have to work so hard to have Jacob speak Polish and leave home? Even if his parents died destitute, there would be no reason why he could not take over the practice--it's not like the bank could take the local clients away. And the loss of family home... Cornell's college of veterinary medicine was and remains a land-grant school, i.e. a highly subsidized portion of the agricultural education system of New York. No one had to mortgage their house to attend Cornell's agricultural or veterinary college. And the veterinary detail is so incredibly lame! Horses don't founder for no reason, and there certainly was palliative care, which any horseman would know. And the scenes of gratuitous cruelty, such as slitting old horses’ throats to feed the cats-- surely Ms Gruen, author of Flying Changes, is an equestrian enough to realize any horse not dead yet would quickly overpower the inept horse butcher or run away. If you are bringing people in to a “lost world”, at least try to make the detail plausible!

Cheap Ending
What a cheap ending! All this drama and otherwise good writing wilts at the end. I enjoyed the story and stayed up past midnight to finish the book in one day. Then I felt totally cheated by the cheezy ending. Surely something better could have been devised?
Avid Reader

Historical romance
I actively disliked this book. The phony tone of the narrator, Jacob, and the simple one-dimensional sentences irritated me the most . A totally romantic book. I am cautious about buying "best sellers" and Water for Elephants reminded me why. A corny fairy tale for adults lavished with cruelty to humans and animals with no redeeming virtue of the book. Cruelty for entertainment's sake--appalling.

water for elephants
Y----a----w----n. This book started out with an interesting premise but as it progressed I became confused. The confusion had nothing to do with the plot but centered on which section of the book that I I purchased the book, Had I purchased it in the new fiction section of the bookstore or the romantic novel section? My memory said new fiction but my common sense said it should have been in the latter with the steamy covered books.

This book was not a mind bender but a heart tugger. The bad guys (August, Uncle Al, the mean nurse and Blackie) were so easily determined to be without social redeeming qualities that even Lucifer would hate them. The bad guys are mean, crude, cheaters, abusers, and on and on and on. And the good guys (Jacob, the lovely Marlena, Walter and Rosie the elephant) are caring, smart, honest, pretty, abused and on and on and on.

While there are many bizarre moments the prize goes the surprise party for August. This scene wins for no other reason that the heroine wants Rosie the elephant to be at the party. Give me a break.

I am being kind with a poor rating. It is not a good book.

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Book of Goose
    The Book of Goose
    by Yiyun Li
    Yiyun Li's The Book of Goose is a story of childhood friendship between narrator Agnès, a one-...
  • Book Jacket: Big Red
    Big Red
    by Jerome Charyn
    Jerome Charyn made his name as an author of detective novels, and over the years he has taken his ...
  • Book Jacket: If I Survive You
    If I Survive You
    by Jonathan Escoffery
    In If I Survive You, author Jonathan Escoffery portrays a family falling apart with grace. Main ...
  • Book Jacket: Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    by Sidik Fofana
    'Everybody got a story, everybody got a tale / Question is: Is it despair or prevail?' ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Bell in the Lake
by Lars Mytting
The engrossing epic novel - a #1 bestseller in Norway - of a young woman whose fate plays out against her village's mystical church bells.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Our Missing Hearts
    by Celeste Ng

    From the author of Little Fires Everywhere, the inspiring new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.



Solve this clue:

G R T Bad R

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.