Bookends About Water for Elephants

43641Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Source: library
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Summary: The characters were fascinating and their personal stories were moving, but the main character didn’t do much to advance the plot.

Left penniless after his parents’ death, Jacob Jankowski quickly fell in love with the two stars of the circus: the beautiful performer Marlena and the elephant Rosie. However, Marelena is already married and her husband is sometimes completely brutish to her and the circus animals. With the circus owner on his side, her husband is very dangerous and Jacob will have a hard time escaping with his life and those he loves.

I’ve heard wonderful things about Water for Elephants for years, but put off reading it largely because I worried about the amount of cruelty to animals I might find within its pages. There were a few really brutal bits, but they weren’t described graphically and weren’t too hard to get through. I’m kind of a softie about such things, so I’m guessing that this wouldn’t be enough to ruin the book for anyone else either.

The characters made me glad I had decided to take a risk and pick this book up. The author does an incredible job sounding like an old man telling you his life story and like a young man living it. She also created characters I began to care about deeply, making this a very emotionally engaging story.

While I loved these characters, I don’t think good characters are enough to carry a plot unless the main character experiences some personal growth and helps drive the plot. In this book, our main character Jacob was very passive. Throughout the book, he does next to nothing to change his own circumstances and the plot is driven entirely by external events. Just watching a character buffeted around by the world leaves me missing the sense of satisfaction I get when I see a character take charge of their circumstances. Obviously, this book has gotten a ton of praise and I’m sure a lot of people who like character driven novels will enjoy it more than I did.

Do you have a strong preference for a book in which the main character takes control of their own circumstances? Do you like character driven plots?



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11 responses to “Bookends About Water for Elephants

  1. I really did like Water for Elephants when I read it. I thought it was a good book. I liked the movie. I’m glad you got the chance to read it.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂 I’m not sure if I’ll see the movie or not (still worried about the cruelty to animals since I think it would be worse to watch!) but I’ve heard so many good things about it, I might give it a try too.

  2. I prefer plot driven novels but still loved this book.

  3. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    Character driven books are my favorite 🙂

    I read this years ago and remember falling in love with it. I’ve always meant to see the film, just haven’t gotten around to it. I read her next book, Ape House. It was ok, but it didn’t have the same magic for me.

    • Ape House sounds like a very different sort of book! I’m tempted to give it a try some day even though it gets worse reviews just because I liked her writing style so much 🙂

  4. I’m with you, I just wasn’t impressed. There were great parts about the book and the abuse wasn’t as bad as many made it out to be, but overall I just had a middle of the road reaction. It goes to show what power word of mouth and book groups yield over the reading public.

  5. I loved this book and have read it two or three times. I’m a fan of both character and plot driven novels. I loved the time frame, the characters, and learning about circus life. I know it deeply divided our book club when I chose it for a read! Mostly the cruelty to animals. Truthfully I believe that we do need to read abouit at times to know that it truly does exist in the world.

    • I also liked the glimpse we got of circus life 🙂 I definitely agree with you that there needs to be awareness that cruelty to animals happens, but since it’s a cause I’m already passionate about, I prefer not to suffer through reading about it.

  6. I remember loving this book when I read it, but I agree that the protagonist was someone things happened to, rather than the other way around. I’m not sure I would reread the book, but I thought it fascinating at the time.

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