Jodi Picoult’s ‘Leaving Time’ introduces us to Jenna Metcalf, a 13 year old girl who lives with her grandmother in New England. Her life is dedicated to finding out what happened to her mother, Alice, in a tragic accident ten years before at the elephant sanctuary Jenna used to live at with her parents, and the sanctuary workers, Gideon, his wife Grace, and Grace’s mother Nevvie. Alice was taken to hospital the night of the accident, and by the next morning, she was missing, leaving her young daughter and husband behind.
Now the big question in Jenna’s mind is, did her mother die or did she choose to leave her behind? And if the latter is true, why did she never return to find her? All Jenna has left of her is a scarf and the journals containing her research on elephants and their ability to grieve.
With her father now in an institution and unable to recognise her, never mind fill in the blanks, internet searches and asking her grandmother proving fruitless in providing the information she craves, Jenna turns to Serenity Jones, an infamous psychic and medium in an effort to get her to reach ‘the other side’ and help her find out what happened to her mother. Serenity has her own demons to face, and has been making her living ‘cold reading’ clients and desperately trying to hear her spirit guides again.
She also reaches out to Virgil, the retired alcoholic police officer who responded to the accident in the elephant sanctuary when it happened but who didn’t follow it up correctly and has been living with it on his conscience since.
Although neither are initially inclined to help her, neither of them can get Jenna off their minds, they come around and between the three of them, begin to piece together what happened to Alice, learning about themselves along the way.
Jodi Picoult is, to me, an author who makes you think. Her books are thoroughly researched, usually emotional, and always face a difficult topic. Leaving Time is no different. Her research on memory, and how trauma can affect it is brilliantly written into her story.
The descriptions of the elephants at the sanctuary, and in the wild, were a welcome addition to the story and they blended seamlessly into the story of Jenna and her mother, they were in fact integral to the plot at times. The language Picoult uses to describe each elephant and their behaviour almost made me feel like I was standing looking at them myself. Since finishing the book I’ve also looked up information on elephants and now find them fascinating.
The twist in the plot was so surprising, and one I never saw coming. It left me reeling and I had to stop reading for a moment to get my head around it. However, unlike some big twists that can be harrowing or ill fitting in a story, this one really worked, and it made the story so much better.
The book jumps between characters and time frames a lot. It’s not difficult to keep up with, and it is done well, but if youre not a fan of books with multiple narratives, then you’ll find it annoying.
Even though she’s a supporting character, I feel like the only character I really got to know is Serenity. We learn about her background, how she found her powers and her spirit guides, and what happened to her when they left her. I would have liked more background information on Alice, her husband Thomas and what led to his depression and outburts, and why Virgil didn’t feel the compulsion to follow up the case that led to the whole story. I really liked the characters and would have liked to know more about them, and to spend more time with them.
Overall though, I really enjoyed this book, I would rate it a five out of five and would be quick to recommend it.