Jodi Picoult has long been writing bestselling novels that are driven by moral complexity and social issues. There is rarely a time that one of her books will not linger with you long after the final page is turned. That being said, LEAVING TIME may be her finest work yet and is sure to produce much discussion after reading it.
The novel is told from the perspective of a handful of different characters, each getting an opportunity to tell his or her side of the story. The chapters are written from the point of view of the character for whom it is named. LEAVING TIME opens with a prologue featuring 10-year-old Jenna, in search of her mother who went missing 10 years earlier. Alice Metcalf was a scientist specializing in elephants, and Jenna's prologue features an allegory about elephants traveling to their graveyard when they know they are going to die. She ruminates that this may have been what happened to her mother.
We next jump to Alice --- most of her chapters being written as a flashback to the time leading up to her disappearance. She warns readers that “some stories just don't have a happy ending.” Jenna has never lost faith that her mother is still out there. One piece of evidence she clings to is a blog entry, seemingly written by Alice, dated two years after her disappearance.
"LEAVING TIME may be [Picoult's] finest work yet and is sure to produce much discussion after reading it."
Jenna cannot do it alone, so she reaches out for the aid of two individuals. The first is a recently defrocked psychic named Serenity Jones, who has shrunk away from the limelight in shame after some infamous nationally televised predictions went badly wrong. Now working as a storefront psychic, she doubts the skills she was born with and does not know how she can help this little girl. Nevertheless, she is able to tell Jenna that she senses her mother is still alive.
The other person Jenna reaches out to is one of the detectives who worked on the case of her mother's disappearance. The night Alice disappeared, there was an additional crime at the elephant sanctuary as the body of another individual was found crushed to death --- apparently by one of the elephants. The police could never turn anything up, even though there were several possible suspects. The ex-detective now working as a P.I., Virgil Stanhope, and the cold case involving Alice is something he always regretted not wrapping up.
The mystery deepens as Jenna and her two new colleagues delve into the life of Alice Metcalf. What they find is that Jenna's father, Thomas, suffered from serious mental illness and delusions, and has been institutionalized since Alice's disappearance. Another colleague at the animal sanctuary, Gideon, may have been having an affair with Alice, and he is a person Jenna knows she needs to speak with to get the full picture on what may have happened to her mother.
Jenna finds some of the answers she was looking for and better understands her mother in the process. Most important to her, she realizes her mother loved her and never would have left her behind willingly. However, this mystery keeps throwing out twists and turns that will confound even the most astute reader.
In Jenna, Picoult has created an unforgettable character who will easily endear herself to each and every reader. Jenna's term “leaving time” recalls a childhood phrase she would use whenever she took a nap and awoke fearing that she had lost everyone close to her during her time away from waking life. Jenna's obsession to find her mother, which she compares to literary figures Captain Ahab and Javert, is inspiring. This is just one of the many messages you are left with after finishing this terrific novel.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on October 15, 2014
- Publication Date: October 14, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books
- ISBN-10: 0345544927
- ISBN-13: 9780345544926