Thursday, October 23, 2014

REVIEW: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Throughout her blockbuster career, #1 New York Times bestselling author 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 book, she has delivered her most affecting novel yet—and one 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 that she would be abandoned as a young child, 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. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons—only to later doubt her gifts. The second is Virgil Stanhope, a jaded private detective who 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.


I have had a long standing relationship with Mrs. Picoult's writing. We started off in a fury of obsession and intensity (My Sister's Keeper, Second Glance, Nineteen Minutes), where I spent a solid month or more devouring everything I could find that had her name listed as the author. We tapered off into a slow simmer soon after, when I began to realize that I was growing weary of her repetitive narrative formula (Handle with Care, Change of Heart). We then, sadly, become merely acquaintances (Sing You Home, Lone Wolf). I would drop by to see what was new, of course, but there wasn't any real interest, nor any shred of the excitement and intrigue I had once felt. Then The Storyteller happened, and I was fiercely thrown back into a state of awe, but with a new found respect in tow. Jodi created something unquestioningly distinct when she wrote The Storyteller, especially when considering her usual narratives, and there is absolutely no denying that it is my favourite piece of work by her. I thought we had rekindled something, I could have sworn that my love was about to reignite in that old familiar way. Unfortunately, Leaving Time was the pinprick to my bubble. I wasn't completely disappointed, but our acquaintance status has been reinstated.

Leaving Time promised to expose me to a few of my favourite things, both in life, and in literature: animals, paranormal happenings, and an international setting. Jodi Picoult's name on the cover aside, I was already sold. Jenna Metcalf can feel her mother, right down to her core. Alice vanished from Jenna's life when it was barely beginning, and a determination to find her is fierce in Jenna's heart. With the enlisted, and frustrating, help of two polar opposite personalities, detective Virgil Stanhope, and ex-famous psychic Serenity Jones, Jenna embarks on the most important journey of her 13-year-old life. In true Picoult form, we are also treated to the perspectives of Alice Metcalf, Virgil and Serenity. Also abundant are in-depth facts on elephants as both a species and an intellectual being. Those were definitely the most fascinating parts, in my opinion.

It wasn't the lack of classic Jodi prose, because that is a constant in everything that she writes. What was lacking for me was the plausibility. I couldn't convince myself that Jenna, at 13, was capable of such mature and witty banter. I also felt like the added dynamic of Serenity's "psychic" nature was a little too forced and out of place. The latter ended up being extremely crucial for story development, especially at the conclusion, but I felt like there was too much happening at once. I was at once in Africa, completely intrigued by Alice Metcalf's research on elephant grief, and also in the audience of a talk show, listening to Serenity spew predictions and fortunes. The mingling of those two particular story lines just rubbed me the wrong way, and played a huge part in lessening my interest in Leaving Time.

The conclusion of this book was absurd, and felt like a huge cop out. It was definitely the most disappointing twist I've ever read in a Picoult book, and would love to know if that was the author's first choice. This isn't a case of regret, because there is always something in Jodi's writing that makes me happier to be alive, I just didn't love the story. Here's hoping next year's book jump starts my heart.

Read if you like:  
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Key themes: 
animal love, mystery, paranormal activity



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