Author: Jodi Picoult
Published By: Ballantine Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Sometimes there’s a sale at a bookstore, say a Buy 2 Get the 3rd Free thing, and you find two books you want right away. The third can usually be a struggle. That’s what happened when I found myself looking for a third book at the local Barnes and Noble. I wondered what the third book should be when I noticed Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. I’d heard of the author before - I had seen My Sister’s Keeper, a movie adaptation of one of her novels and a friend of mine has raved about another of her novels, Sing You Home. So, I felt that Leaving Time would be a good third book choice.
In Leaving Time, thirteen-year-old Jenna Metcalf is searching for her missing mother. Alice, a scientist who studied grief in elephants at an elephant sanctuary, had gone missing shortly after the trampling of a co-worker. Her father, Thomas, has been in a mental institution ever since. Jenna has a nice life with her grandmother, but she has always wondered what happened to her mother and why she left. Now that she is thirteen and has saved up enough babysitting money, Jenna decides she is going to hire some help to find the answers to her questions.
In case her mother is dead, Jenna decides to hire a psychic. The only one she can vaguely afford is a pink-haired woman named Serenity Jones. In her heyday, Serenity was a famous psychic with her own television show and an amazing psychic ability that has helped the police more than once when tracking down dead or missing. Unfortunately, one horrific mistake has haunted her ever since – she lost everything, including her abilities – and now Serenity fakes it, giving anyone who will pay the fee a cold read like any other “swamp witch.” She doesn’t want to help Jenna at first, but something about this girl gets her intuition tingling and it isn’t long before they find something belonging to her mother in a most interesting location.
In case her mother is not dead, Jenna hires a private investigator to hunt her down…one who would have good reason to want to do so. Vic Stanhope is an alcoholic who ekes out a living doing private investigator work, but he was once a cop named Virgil Stanhope who worked on the trampling case of Nevvie Ruehle. He was the one who found an unconscious Alice in one of the elephant sanctuary enclosures and made sure she got to the hospital. But he never got a chance to interview Alice before she disappeared and not knowing the answers about this case has haunted him for years.
Now, this unlikely team sets out to discover just what happened to Alice Metcalf. Were rumors of the problems between Jenna’s mother and father true? Was she running from him? If so, why leave Jenna behind? Or was Alice actually dead, perhaps at the hands of her own father? One thing is for certain – with this quirky team and a case that has been cold for ten years, answers won’t come easy. But sometimes a determined spirit is all you need to get to the bottom of a mystery.
When I first picked up this book, I thought it was simply a mystery novel about a young kid searching for her mother. But Leaving Time is so much more. The book is broken down into four separate points of view. We have the point of view of Jenna, Serenity and Vic – those are to be expected – but there is also the point of view of Alice. From Alice we get an idea of who she is, how she met and fell in love with Thomas, how she ended up continuing her research on elephants and grief at the New England Elephant Sanctuary and more. Her chapters are more elaborate flashbacks into the past that help the reader understand things about Alice that Jenna could in no way remember, having been abandoned at the age of three. The mystery surrounding Alice’s disappearance is intriguing and having these chapters in which we see things through Alice’s eyes are helpful in tying us to this character and inspiring us to learn more about what might have happened to her.
I was captivated by Jodi Picoult’s writing style. Her descriptiveness allowed me to see everything with my mind’s eye while her ability to create likeable characters made me become invested in each and every single one. Despite their flaws, these are people with good hearts who come together with one goal – to find the answer to the disappearance of Alice Metcalf. I would have enjoyed this story even if it just ended with the discovery as to what happened to Alice, but the author supplies us with much more than that. She throws us a plot twist that is so extraordinary that we find out chins dropping, mouth agape and eyes wide as we stare at the pages in front of us. I believe I yelled out, “No way!” as I was hit with this twist. After you read a little more, you realize that you should have seen this all along. There were clues along the way that you missed…or maybe you saw them and ignored them.
Anyway, that plot twist in Leaving Time that so floored me made the story even that much better in my mind and I found myself telling everyone I knew about this book. The version of Leaving Time I picked up included a novella called Larger Than Life which gives us even more insight into Alice, her relationship with her mother and what exactly steered her towards her research and the heartbreak she suffered while studying elephants in Africa.
I found both Leaving Time and Larger Than Life to be very entertaining. I couldn’t put the book down, stealing moments to read here and there throughout my day. My friend was write – Jodi Picoult is one captivating author whose writing I definitely can’t wait to sample more of. You could tell that she truly researched every aspect of this novel and I admire her attention to detail, making sure the book was credible fiction rather than just a story with no factual basis. One could tell that Jodi Picoult’s research on elephants had drawn her into the plight of these magnificent creatures and made her their champions. I learned more about elephants from this book than I have in years of studying animals. What a great read!