[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Random House of Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]
If you’re a reader, I’m sure Jodi Picoult needs no introduction. Since publishing her first book in 1992, she has written 20 more novels, including Leaving Time. That’s pretty much one book a year. Impressive, right? I’m a little ashamed to say that Leaving Time was my first experience reading Picoult. However, I’m not ashamed to say that I couldn’t put the novel down once I had started it.
Leaving Time is a detective novel of sorts, as it follows 13 year-old Jenna Metcalf as she recruits two unlikely companions to help her find her missing mother. You see, many years ago, Jenna’s parents owned and ran an elephant sanctuary until one unfortunate night where an accident happens inside an elephant enclosure and Alice Metcalf is never seen again. Where did Alice go? Is she safe? Why didn’t she bring Jenna with her? Will Jenna be able to find out the truth of what happened to her mom?
This book touches on many things that draw me into books: a missing character, a fierce immovable, hopeful love, and a group of characters yearning for second chances. Picoult uses multiple narratives to give her main characters their own voice, and they all reveal a bit of themselves to readers as time passes. It’s interesting to note that Alice is one of these narrators, though it is unclear in the beginning where she is narrating from. This adds to the intrigue of the novel, and as each of the characters involved in the “incident” come under scrutiny, readers start to question everything they thought they knew – especially when it comes to Alice. Why did Alice leave? Was it out of fear? Something else?
Though the story of Alice’s disappearance takes up a lot of the plot, one of the most endearing things about Leaving Time was the trio that sets out to uncover the truth. On her quest to find her mom, Jenna recruits Serenity and Virgil, a psychic and a former detective. It was wonderful to watch as the trio’s relationship developed, especially since Serenity believes in (or knows, rather) a more spiritual world whereas Virgil is deeply invested in science and facts. Somehow, these seemingly discordant elements find their way together in Leaving Time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fascinating elephant observations that take up a major part of the novel. Both of Jenna’s parents were elephant researchers before the enclosure accident and much of Alice’s narration focuses on her studies, especially her findings on elephants and grief. Alice is fixated on the relationship between an elephant and her calf, and what happens if either of them are left behind. This ties in well with Jenna’s journey to find her mom and made me wonder whether we’re not so different from other creatures after all.
I’m glad that the characters, mystery, and elephant facts were such an interesting read because I did, unfortunately, find the ending to be a little anticlimactic. Though I wasn’t able to predict how the book would end, I couldn’t help but wonder if a more perceptive reader might have. That being said, a good book is as much about the journey as the destination, so I would still confidently recommend Leaving Time for anyone who wants a fast-paced and captivating read.
Verdict: A strong, engrossing read despite a somewhat anticlimactic ending. It features some very strong relationships that are wonderful to read about and a plot that will keep you turning the pages until you’re finished. Plus, there are elephant facts and jokes!
Read if: You love reading and learning about elephants, are a sucker for books that focus on mother-daughter relationships (like me), want to read a book that will keep you up reading past your bedtime. 😉
Have you read anything by Jodi Picoult? Will you be picking up Leaving Time?