I love this book. When I read the description on Amazon, I was afraid this would be a very depressing tale of abused animals, circus freaks, and runaway orphans during the Great Depression. It is not. Jacob Jankowski walks out on his final exams at veterinary school after his parents die in a car accident and joins a fleabag circus by accident during the Depression, but he also finds adventure, friendship and a lot of satisfaction working with the menagerie. There is a lot of humor, friendship and life packed into the story, which lightens the mood considerably. The author's writing style, characters and very compelling plot really draw the reader in and makes this book almost impossible to put down. The characters are really well developed. I felt like the author wasn't afraid to show both the good and bad sides of all the characters, regardless of their role in the story, and that made them more realistic. Young Jacob is naive, impulsive and sometimes a little selfish, but that's part of how young people sometimes act. He's also weak at some points, most notably when he fails to intervene when August is beating the crap out of Rosie, but he's still a great character and protagonist, because he's realistic. None of the characters are entirely good or entirely bad, just like real people. I also really liked the way the author balanced the story between young Jacob's adventures with the circus with old Jacob's struggles in the nursing home. She doesn't make old Jacob someone to be pitied, he retains his feisty character and independence and gives us some of the really funny moments in the book.The one plot point that really bothered me is that she never really ties up the loose end she created with Walter. Right before the stampede, Jacob learns that a few of the guys that were redlighted on the trestle the night before have caught up to the circus. Camel died instantly, but Walter survived the fall with badly broken legs. He vanishes from the story without a second though when Jacob is told "oh, he probably didn't live through the night." What?!?! I understand that things get crazy very shortly thereafter, but after the stampede why doesn't anyone go back to find out for sure what happened to Walter? Or send the local police to look for him the next day? He could have survived for a short time. I'm not saying that I wanted Walter to be rescued and for everyone to live happily ever after (I think the ending was fine), just that I wanted some closure one way or the other.Overall, this is an amazing book. You can tell that the author researched the Depression, circuses and the animals meticulously and her hard work pays off in a very detailed and realistic book. I can't wait to see the movie now, and I will be highly recommending this book to everyone.