1) I found the the book revealed much about the plight of the elderly. The story is told as a flashback; Jacob recalls his days on the circus from his wheelchair in a nursing home. The flashback chapters account for the majority of the book, yet it was the present day chapters, as Jacob describes the challenges and the loneliness he was experiencing in the home, that I found most eye opening.
2) Don't get me wrong, the flashback chapters were wonderful. Though three main characters were primary to the narrative, the circus setting allowed the author to develop a host of unique personalities. The cast included carnival hands, big show performers, freak show additions, a rotund circus boss, and an entire zoo, including Rosie the Elephant. I enjoyed the evolution of these characters over the course of the story, most of all Walter.
3) If you've ever read Cormac McCarthy, you've seen the pinnacle of descriptive writing; the entire world seems to come alive with McCarthy's personification. Read McCarthy if you want a greater appreciation of the English language and the power of metaphor. However, with Sara Gruen you get meticulous detail. It is not hard to imagine the Depression-Era circus as she outlines and colors each setting with precision.
I relish fiction but gravitate towards historical fiction above all. I appreciate Gruen's research and the knowledge she cultivated about her subject before ever putting pen to paper. It makes a fascinating narrative all the more relevant in my opinion. All in all, a great book. Try it out for yourself. If you're like me, you'll refuse to put it down in the last hundred pages.