Sometimes you just want a book that will grab you early and keep you turning the pages the whole time. I picked up Leaving Time exactly for that reason; Jodi Picoult is pretty reliably compelling, whether it’s a controversial subject, a thrilling court case (…or both), or a mystery (like this one).
Leaving Time is the story of a young girl named Jenna Metcalf in search of her mother, Alice. Alice was a researcher living and working in an elephant sanctuary in Pennsylvania. She ended up there for love, following a man who didn’t think her study on grief in elephants was a waste of time like many of her colleagues. When Jenna is only three, a woman is found dead, trampled to death by an elephant, and Alice disappears. Due to the lazy work of a retiring detective and no missing persons report, there is no investigation into the disappearance. Now a young teen, Jenna takes the search into her own hands. Consulting with a washed up celebrity psychic and the detective whose guilt never went away after the botched investigation, they are determined to find out what happened that night in the elephant sanctuary.
In the format of a typical Jodi Picoult novel, the narrative bounces back and forth between characters. Alice is the only narrator who isn’t in the present. Instead, she acts a flashback character, providing the background story that leads up to the night she disappeared, eventually revealing what actually happened. It is done skillfully, the reader never learns until the end whether or not she is still alive or if her story ends that night. Hers was ultimately my favorite perspective, although an impatient reader would call hers the slowest. I really enjoyed reading about her accounts of elephant behavior observed both in the African wild and in the sanctuary. The elephants definitely have personality, especially Maura, and I enjoyed the sections about them – you can tell, maybe a little too much, that the subject matter was researched well by the author. It reminded me of another of her novels in that way, Lone Wolf. As an animal lover and general softie in life, I could have done without some of the graphic descriptions of what happens to some of the elephants, but Alice is researching grief, so grief-inducing events are kind of necessary and expected. And everyone knows that historically elephants have not been treated very well in captivity, which were some of the hardest parts for me to read.
Another characteristic element of a Picoult novel is a twist ending, sometimes even on the last dang page (Handle With Care, anyone?). Leaving Time is no exception. While I did enjoy the pleasure of the plot completely flipping (a twist you don’t see coming is always oddly satisfying), it also cheapened the whole story in a way. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say this particular twist has been done before, and very famously. The author had to know it was a risk to use it, and I kind of wish I could get into her head to see what the other possibilities were, if there ever were any. For me it didn’t ruin the story because it made complete sense once it was revealed. It wrapped up the storyline of one of the characters in a great way – in fact, you could say the entire story was actually about her. Okay okay, let’s move on…
All things considered, this wasn’t my favorite novel by Jodi Picoult. I haven’t read them all, but I’ve read around a dozen. Leaving Time probably floats around the middle of the pack among them. As I said, I wanted something compelling to read, and in that sense it did not disappoint. However, if you are new to Jodi Picoult, I would recommend some of her other novels over this one. Some of my favorites have been Keeping Faith, Handle With Care, Lone Wolf, Vanishing Acts, My Sister’s Keeper, and Plain Truth. Just whatever you do, don’t start with Songs of the Humpback Whale. I couldn’t get through it!
Any other fans of Jodi Picoult out there? Which of her novels is your favorite?