Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: Leaving Time

Summary: Throughout her blockbuster career, Jodi Picoult has seamlessly blended nuanced characters, riveting plots, and rich prose, brilliantly creating stories that “not only provoke the mind but touch the flawed souls in all of us” (The Boston Globe). Now, in her highly anticipated new novel, she has delivered her most affecting work yet—a book unlike anything she’s written before.

For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest: Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons, only to later doubt her gifts, and Virgil Stanhope, the jaded private detective who’d originally investigated Alice’s case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they’ll have to face even harder answers.

As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. A deeply moving, gripping, and intelligent page-turner, Leaving Time is Jodi Picoult at the height of her powers. -- Ballantine

I just finished reading LEAVING TIME by Jodi Picoult a few days ago and didn't want to wait to write my review. As a result, I am featuring LEAVING TIME as part of Mystery Mondays. There is no doubt that the book did have a mystery element to it, but in all honestly, it was so much more that "just a mystery." It's been quite a few years since I've read a novel by Ms. Picoult, and this one was a great way to re-introduce myself to her writing. I absolutely loved this book!

Jenna Metcalf is a 13 year old girl who is still trying to resolve what happened to make her mom Alice disappear after a horrible accident. In her heart, Jenna knows her mother loved her and wouldn't leave her, but the evidence says otherwise. For years, Jenna has been searching online and reading her mother's journals in hopes of finding clues. Alice's journals are filled with her research on grief in elephants, but Jenna clings to the idea that there might be one little thing that gives a clue to her whereabouts.

Since Jenna hasn't been having any luck, she decides to approach a psychic named Serenity and a private detective Virgil, who just happened to be one of the cops on the original case concerning the accident and Alice. Both Serenity and Virgil have had their fair share of difficulties in the past and together they help Jenna discover the truth about what happened to her mother.

I had heard some good things about this book, but I honestly didn't expect to like it this much. (I know that sounds horrible.) I can pretty much say that I enjoyed every aspect of this novel -- from the mystery, to the wonderful characters, to how the story was told, to the intriguing storyline, to the way Ms. Picoult incorporated elephants in the story, to the rewarding (and surprising) ending. LEAVING TIME will probably go down as one of my favorite reads of the year.

I'm certain one reason I liked this book so much was that it did have a lot of amazing information about elephants... and I love elephants. Because Alice was a researcher who focused on elephant behavior especially as it related to grief, I found her journals to be fascinating! It was apparent that Ms. Picoult did a tremendous amount of research to write this book, and it definitely paid off. However, what impressed me even more was how she tied the elephants' behaviors to the characters' lives in the story. I loved not only how the story delved into grief but also how it focused on motherly love. Let me just say that elephants are wonderful creatures!

Another aspect of this novel that really stood out to me was the character development. I absolutely loved Jenna, and even though she did seem a little to mature to me at times, I thought she was a terrific character. I appreciated how she was portrayed with so much determination and faith, and I loved her sense of humor. In addition, I really loved both Serenity and Virgil. Because the story was told in alternating chapters between these three complex characters, I really got a sense of their back stories and how much vested they were in Jenna.

The mystery of what happened to Alice was really strong and I loved how it all came together at the end of the story. I appreciated how Jenna, Virgil, and Serenity got to the bottom of the issues as well as how they set out to learn more about Alice... each in their own way. I really don't think I can say much more about this aspect of the story without being tempted to give away a mind-blowing ending!

Needless to say, I am just skimming the surface of some of the main reasons I enjoyed this novel so much. I honestly feel as if I'm not doing the book justice because I'm not discussing it in even more detail -- I'm missing so much of what was really good about LEAVING TIME. I guess that means that I think this book would make for an excellent discussion. Unfortunately (and a bit surprising to me), I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide; however, I don't think one is necessary. Some of the themes you might want to explore include grief, mother/child relationships, friendships, marriage, love, passion, abandonment, determination, psychic abilities, mental illness, and loss. In addition, all of the characters are extremely complicated and would be incredibly interesting to dissect.

Overall, I can't say enough about LEAVING TIME. Highly recommended!

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

Picoult is hit or miss for me - sometimes I feel really manipulated when I finish one of her books. I've heard this is one of her best. I'll have to look for it.

Kim@Time2Read said...

I just reviewed this one last week. My review reads a lot like yours....especially about the elephants! Take a look if you have time. You can find it here.

Beth F said...

I haven't had huge luck with Picoult but this sounds like a winner.

salzy said...

I have read many of Picoult's books, all of which seem to have a surprise ending. This book, however, made me feel manipulated and annoyed in how she chose to end the book. The characters' dialogue was too slick and snarky and I didn't like any of the them, particularly, especially Jenna. The chapters on elephant behavior were a distraction and I basically skipped them. I love elephants but not to the extent that Picoult delved into their psyches. Picoult's novels are basically pulp fiction and very formulaic. I think I will forego reading any of her future novels.