I saw the preview for the movie, and while it didn't particularly make me want to watch the movie, it did make me want to read the book. I'm glad I did.
While the story can at times be overly dramatic and sentimental, it's also the sort of book that makes me stay up way too late at night, ignoring everything around me so that I can finish it. That's never a bad thing!
A veterinary student, struck by personal tragedy, ends up in a traveling circus, where he finds a rougher life than he had dreamed existed, full of violence, insanity - and, surprisingly, true friendship and love.
Gruen really did her research on the traveling shows of the 1930's, and it shows. I found it wholly convincing - although sometimes it does seem like she shoved every exciting thing that ever happened or might have happened at a circus into her book like clowns into a clown car... but overall, it works.
I even liked the sections of the framing device, where Our Protagonist is an old man in a nursing home, struggling to maintain his dignity and remembering the years of his youth. Surprisingly, they're nearly as gripping as the more action-packed scenes set in the past. And the ending, while a bit of a fantasy, is truly heartwarming.