Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult

Leaving TimeSometimes 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?

E.

Lone Wolf – Jodi Picoult – A Reading Journal

I sort of feel split on this one…

I loved the concept of the novel: a man who studies wolves so closely he becomes a member of a pack (well, several packs), is in a horrific accident and his family must decide whether or not to pull the plug on his life support. If you’ve ever read a Jodi Picoult novel, you sort of know the drill; a controversial topic told from multiple perspectives usually revolving around a judicial trial of some kind. Nineteen Minutes, The Pact, Handle With Care, My Sister’s Keeper, and Plain Truth (to name most) follow the same basic outline as this novel, one of her newer works…but this one fell a little below the mark for me.

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The basic argument of the novel, whether or not to terminate the life support of Luke Warren, is embodied by Luke’s two children: Edward, 23, and Cara, 17. Since their mother was divorced from the patient, the responsibility falls to their children to make medical decisions for him…and since Cara is just below the age of majority, the responsibility falls to Edward. BUT, Edward and his father had a major falling out and hasn’t spoken in 6 years, whereas Cara had been living with him exclusively for four years at the time of the accident, and makes it quite clear that she wants her voice to be heard, especially since she is the one fighting to keep him alive. So who should have the final say?

The main characters, to me, fell flat in this book – namely Edward and Cara. It almost seemed like Picoult needed the two kids to be dead-set in opposition, and forced them to be there until she was finished with what she needed to accomplish with them. It felt forced, flat, and fake, and at times I just wanted to skip ahead in the narrative because I’d heard their positions already and both of their arguments were completely futile – they were both incredibly stubborn. Edward was more believable that Cara, and more likable; she was very whiney, immature, and unlikable through most of the novel.

Reader beware, spoilers abound in the next paragraph; Skip if you’d like to be surprised!::

Outside of those two, I found three other characters just as annoying – Georgie, Luke’s ex-wife, her husband and Edward’s lawyer, Joe Ng, and Danny Boyle, Cara’s lawyer. Outside of how irritating the narrator’s voice was for Georgie, I did not understand her as a character. If she was willing to marry Luke Warren in the first place, and put up with him for 18 years, including his departure for 2 years to live with the wolves in the Canadian Wilderness and his re-adaptation back into civilization, why would she have left him then? First of all, I don’t believe that Luke Warren would have cheated on his wife – the man went 2 years without sex of any kind, and reveres an animal that would do anything and everything for family, I don’t think he’d be bunking the interns. The story just sort of fell apart for me, near the end. Joe Ng, the man who married Luke’s ex-wife, is utterly insecure about his relationship with her. He seems to be in awe over her even though they’ve been married with children for several years (also, Georgie’s new kids are constantly referred to as ‘The Twins’…who does that?). Both Joe and the other lawyer, Danny Boyle are not very consistently written, and their ‘parts’ in the novel are quite insignificant.

Hands down my favorite character in this novel is Luke Warren – yes, the guy in a vegetative state. Although during the ‘present’ struggle the main characters are going through Luke is completely unresponsive, Picoult throws in many tid-bits of his research and his life story; many times it had parallels to the ‘current’ situation discussed in the book.

There is a piece in all of us (I hope to think) that longs to re-connect with nature. I am part Native American (a very small part) and I am absolutely fascinated with the respectful way of life many tribes seemed to have, and their belief systems. My mom & I have medicine cards that teach us the medicine of each animal, and what we can learn from them, and what it may mean when we encounter them in our lives (either in dreams, thoughts, or in real life). Those cards are one of my favorite possessions.

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The wolf is a fascinating animal that we can all learn from – they will do anything and everything for the good of the pack – their family. They are not particularly violent, but cautious & protective. I feel like Picoult’s research on the animals was impeccable & I’m motivated to learn more about them. Although Luke is a fictional character, there is a real man, Shaun Ellis, who lived the way Luke does in the novel, where Jodi drew much of her inspiration and did most of her research.

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Because wolves are so fascinating, I thought I would share some facts about them with you guys::

-Beta wolves, not the Alphas, are the ‘tough guys’ of the pack, and will rush out to test any visitors or outsiders before any other member of the pack.

-An Alpha female wolf has many uncanny abilities: She can influence other female wolves to not go into heat, she can fake a pregnancy (which puts the rest of the pack on their best behavior…thinking there will be little ones around), and even terminate her own pregnancy, if need be.

-The Alpha directs the pack, completely. She dictates which animal to kill out of a group, who eats what, and can hear changes in a heartbeat rhythm from six or seven feet away.

-Even the ‘runt’ of the pack serves an important purpose. They are called the Diffuser wolf, the one who is always getting picked on, and who purposefully jumps into all arguments and fights. His/Her job is to diffuse the tension; to prevent large disruptions within the pack.

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Look at how beautiful these animals are. I would recommend everyone to read this book just for Luke Warren’s perspectives. Much of it may be fictional, but it was some of the best fiction I’ve read in a Picoult novel.

I got a little tired of Jodi Picoult’s ‘formula’ here. In this case I felt much of the ‘typical’ features she had in this book were unnecessary. The temporary guardian-the lawyers & trial-were they really necessary? Could it not have just been a family struggle? If she’d toned down Edward’s initial reactions, much of the most unsuccessful parts of the story wouldn’t have been necessary. I’ve read in a few places that people felt like this book must have been rushed by a publisher or something. Perhaps that was an issue, but to me it seemed like the author was stuck on an idea and was unwilling to change for the sake of the story and characters she created. I’ve never really understood what authors (like Stephen King) mean when they say ‘I create the situation and let the characters go where they will’ (not a direct quote…paraphrase!), until now. I think this is the first example I’ve come across where it’s been apparent that’s not what happened.

All in all, I’d give it about a three. I’ve definitely read better books of Picoult’s, but as always (with the exception of Songs of the Humpback Whale), it was a pleasure to read, and it always kept me wondering…she’s been known for plot twists and surprise endings after all.

Until Next Time,

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P.S. – My best friend just read The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, just released), and said it was her new favorite of Picoult’s. I plan to read it when it comes out as paperback!

The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult

I’ve been on something of a reading roll this month. I wanted to read a book I knew I would fly through and would just suck me straight in so I could forget how deperessed I was over The Paris Wife. I’ve read many Jodi Picoult novels before, and after hearing from my friend that this was her favorite Picoult so far (mine is tied between Second Chance & Plain Truth), and it just happened to be sitting on my shelf, I decided this would probably qualify.

In retrospect, this was not a good choice to lighten my mood.

This book is about the Holocaust. I somewhat knew that already, but what I didn’t know was that 1/3 of the book would be dedicated to a first-hand (fictional) account of a young polish girl whose life was destroyed by the war and was eventually sent to Aushwitz. I did not expect this, because Jodi Picoult generally does not write that way. She usually picks a controversial topic, centers it around some kind of court case, and tells the gripping, emotional story that takes place in a moral grey-area from all sides. I think she tried to do that here, at least partly, but failed.

I just finished writing my review of Mansfield Park, and in it, I wrote how it is unfair to judge a work by comparing it to the rest of the author’s work. Well, forget that, because that’s exactly why I didn’t like this book. I read Jodi Picoult books to be entertained (also why I read Philippa Gregory). When you read 12 books by the same person (I counted), you really start to get ahold of their writing style, their patterns…their comfort zone. The ‘modern’ section of this book (the other 2/3rds), just wasn’t good. I feel like she reused a character (Cara Warren from Lone Wolf – the similarities in personality were undeniable), a situation (the Jesus Bread, similar to scenes in Keeping Faith), and a tired formula (the court case/lawyer thing just didn’t work in this book). The ending felt rushed, and the twist ending wasn’t that meaningful.

Now, if you haven’t read any/many of Picoult’s novels, you would probably enjoy most of this book, but I would recommend others above it (see those mentioned above). I admit – I’ve become quite the snobby reader, so take my opinion with a grain of salt; I know a lot of people will not agree with me in this case (it’s average rating on goodreads is 4.23 with almost 50,000 reviewers – that’s incredibly high). I initially gave it three stars (the middle section really was very good), but the more I think of it as a whole, I’ve downgraded it on goodreads to only 2. They can’t all be winners, eh?

Hoping this trail of unimpressive books comes to an end soon! What are some five star books you think I should be reading?