Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006. 331 pages.
1. A succinct evaluative annotation. Plot: [Conflict] Jacob’s life was turned upside down when his mother and father died in a car accident, leaving Jacob with no family, no home, and no money to finish veterinary school. He jumped a train cargo, hoping to find somewhere to go and ended up joining the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, where he was their “vet” for the animals. [Rising Action] Jacob, after working with the circus for awhile, fell in love with one of the performers, but she was married to another performer. After awhile, Jacob and Marlena decided that they want to leave the circus and her husband. [Climax] Right before Jacob and Marlena were going to leave, there was a stampede during one of the acts, killing many and ended the Benzini Brothers circus group. [Falling Action] Both Jacob and Marlena had no money, but they did have an elephant, eleven horses, and a orangutan, so they went to work with the Ringling Brothers circus until they retired years later. [Resolution] Jacob was 93 and still kicking, alone, and decided to run away with another circus, living life to the fullest while he still can at the end of the novel. Theme: The themes in this book include death, survival, romance, family, and living on the circus. Tone: The tone in this novel is, for the most part, very serious. Jacob lost his identity at the beginning of this novel but was able to regain it back and start a new life, after the hardships of living on the circus train for a summer. Style: The author’s writing style was very creative. Jacob was telling this story when he was 93, recalling that summer that changed his life. For a few, brief chapters, it would be the 93 year old Jacob remembering his life while at the retirement home, but the majority of the story was Jacob reliving his life when he was 23 and working on the circus. Characterizations: Jacob was very resourceful, able to do anything that he could on the circus to be able to stay and work his keep. He was very strong and didn’t like seeing anyone or any animal be beaten for any reason. Marlena was a very shy, sweet girl who happened to marry the wrong man and had to live with his temper for 4 years, always waiting for the worst to happen. Readability: This novel was very easy to read; I think any reader will zip through this book, not wanting to put it down for any reason.
2. My reactions to the book. I really liked this book. There were no flaws to it and I think that a lot of readers will like the circus atmosphere and see what circus workers did when they traveled on the trains in the 1900s. While there wasn’t a Benzini Brothers circus, the author did use content that was true, about the elephant especially.
3. Comment on the cover art. The cover art for this novel is really good, I think. It shows the circus-y atmosphere even though a typical viewer looking that the cover might not know that it’s about the circus. I do think, though, that putting an elephant on the cover might have been more beneficial because, in a way, this novel does focus a lot on the elephant in the story. Since this has been made into a movie recently, though, the new cover basically covers Robert Patterson and Reese Witherspoon, so that might attract both young males and females to read it (or watch it) because they like one or both of the actors.