It is the height of the Great Depression, but Jacob Jankowski is a kid who has everything going for him. Ready to graduate Cornell with a degree in veterinary science, which he plans to put to use in a partnership with his father, his world comes crashing down when he is informed that both his parents have been killed in a car accident. While still reeling, he is informed by a lawyer that he has nothing. His father had been taking payment in eggs and farm animals and the house mortgaged to pay for his Ivy League education. Destitute, he abandons college in the middle of his final exams, wanders into the woods, and hops a train. That train, which will either be his future or his undoing, belongs to Uncle Al and the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It is here he falls in love, first with the gorgeous Marlena, next with the giant and untrainable elephant Rosie. It his here, accompanied by n'er do well's, freaks, and a menagerie of circus animals that the story Jacob's life unfolds.
There's not much I could say about this novel that has not already been said. I loved every page of this book, from the opening in the nursing home, to Jacob's introduction to the circus life; from his first sighting of Marlena to his first encounter with Rosie, and every moment in between and after. It's easy to see why this novel was so received by both critics and readers. It was easy to read, written in an engaging manner, well-paced, and the characters both interesting and likable. It also had an absolutely perfect conclusion, both for Jacob and the reader. I regret that I waited so long to read this novel and would urge anyone on the fence, should I or shouldn't I, to pick this book up and read it. You won't be disappointed.