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The cover for the bestselling novel WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, published in 2010, is a contemporary novel by Sara Gruen. The movie was released in 2011.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS spent 8 weeks at #1 on the NYT Bestseller List. It has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

“Jesus Christ!” I yell, looking in alarm first at the point where August disappeared, and then down at the bare coupling and ties that race beneath the cars.


Jacob Janowski’s luck had run out–orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.

It was the Great Depression and for Jacob the circus was both his salvation and a living hell. There he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but brutal animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great hope for this third-rate traveling show.

The bond that grew among this group of misfits was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.


Water for Elephants is used as an example in the following posts. Check them out!

Comparison of Point of ViewA comparison of point of view in literature (first, third limited, and omniscient) including modern fiction examples. Which is right for your novel?
First Person Point of ViewMe, myself, and I are examples of first person point of view. Check out five times you should use first POV for your novel.
the SidekickLearn the 4 qualities of every sidekick, 7 roles your sidekick can play, and see modern examples.
the Love InterestLearn the five loving qualities of a love interest and see modern examples.
Minor Characters & ExtrasA story world is filled with minor characters and extras. Learn their four jobs and see modern examples.
DialogueLearn how to write dialogue with these 6 tips and tricks.
Chapter OneYour first chapter is one of the most important. Learn 5 must-have elements of the first chapter.


Honestly, the prologue of this book ruined it for me. WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT EVERYTHING WORKS OUT OKAY BEFORE THE STORY EVEN STARTS?!?!?!?!

The prologue aside, the book itself was a good one. It’s an easy and engaging read. I’d recommend it (except skip the prologue).

But that’s just my opinion, what do others think?

But it’s the setting and animal subplot that add flavor to this book.

Laras Book Club

Gruen’s novel isn’t deep literary fiction exploring the big questions of life but rather a beautifully told story of one man, his coming of age, his first love, an unexpected summer filled with adventure as well as his poignant moments of nostalgia and longing for that life.

a typewriter

Writing Practice

Check out these writing exercises and prompts inspired by WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.

Prompt: The Opening Paragraph(s)

This is the opening paragraph of the novel. Ignore everything you know about the story and use it as a writing prompt.

Your Task: Using as much detail as possible, write another 300+ words.


Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. Grady and I sat at a battered wooden table, each facing a burger on a dented tin plate. The cook was behind the counter, scraping his griddle with the edge of a spatula. He had turned off the fryer some time ago, but the odor of grease lingered.

Exercise: Mix & Match

This exercise is all about being creative. We’re going to merge a setting of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS with a character from LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD.

Your Task: Write a scene where one of the characters of LITTLE RED is at the circus.

Need Help?

  • Use the same prompt as above & make the “me” Red or the Wolf.
  • Create an entirely new circus and use Red. Imagine that her family is part of the circus: She’s on her way to her grandmothers’ tent and she encounters the Wolf character. What happens?
an old chair and wood burning fireplace


First Published
Jul 20, 2010
Print Length
(according to amazon)
465 pages
File Size
(according to amazon)
824 KB
PublisherTwo Roads
Goodreads Rating
(As of Feb 2019)
Amazon Rating
(As of Feb 2019)
Buy Now


Pin This: Book Review & Analysis of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS


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