Jacob's parents died just as he was about to write his final exams in veterinary school at Cornell University. Because of the hard economic times, his parents mortgaged everything to pay his tuition and thus he was left grief-stricken AND penniless. He ends up joining the Benzini Brothers by an accident of good timing and, because of his vet training, he ends up hired on to care for the horses and other animals. Along the way, the circus owner purchases an elephant named Rosie; she becomes a special part of this story.
Author Sara Gruen weaves a tale of hooking the rubes into coming to the show, second-rate performances that managed to wow the audiences, boozy nights, in-fighting among those with the train, backbreaking work, and other fascinating details of the traveling circus. Jacob quickly assimilates into the hard life and makes the mistake of falling in love with Marlena, one of the performers who has a sadistic husband. Not only cruel to his wife, August also beats and mistreats the animals. What will become of Jacob and the rest of the members of this group of misfits, outcasts, and showmen?
Readers will savor the story and applaud the somewhat maudlin ending. I read it quickly and found it very sweet and entertaining; recommended for teens and adults. Enjoy!