Synopsis: Alice is an elephant researcher specializing in elephant grief. 10 years ago Alice disappeared. Now, her 13-year-old daughter, Jenna, searches for her mother and tries to solve the mystery of her disappearance with the help of Serenity, a psychic, and Virgil, the detective who was on the case 10 years ago.
Review: Leaving Time is a devastating, fascinating book. It tells the tale of Alice, an elephant researcher whose specialty is elephant grief. That is enough to tell you that this is not a happy book. Leaving Time devotes a lot of its time in teaching the reader about elephants and their behavior. These sections of the book are absolutely fascinating – if you love animals, you will enjoy these parts of the book. If you’re not into animals, these sections may likely bore you. I’ve always dreamed of going on safari, and this book takes you there – right in front of the elephants, watching them go about their lives. You realize the strength and power in the elephant, and I’ve got a newfound respect for elephants after reading this book. And I’ve now got a desire to spend hours on YouTube watching elephant videos.
But, the life and behavior of elephants is not the entire plot of the book. Jenna, age 13, is haunted by the fact that 10 years ago her mother, Alice (the elephant researcher) disappeared. Jenna hires a psychic named Serenity, and also Virgil, who was one of the main investigators looking into Alice’s disappearance. When Alice disappeared, a body was found at the scene, guarded by an elephant. So there is also a possible murder to investigate as well. What happens in Jenna’s investigation is spellbinding. I was immediately grabbed by the mystery – the character Serenity really pulled me in. I enjoyed her and wanted to read more about her.
Jodi Picoult has a very clever way of pulling multiple characters stories together and weaving small details in that you don’t notice until you get to the end. She constantly surprises me in her books, and one thing you should never, ever do in a Picoult book is look at the end (trust me – I’ve learned my lesson!). She always pulls something at the end of the book that twists everything you’ve just read. I made the mistake of reading the ending of one of her previous books, The Storyteller, and part of the joy of reading a Picoult book is the mystery of the plot unfolding. And when that bam! ending comes, it is built up so well that it doesn’t feel like it came out of left field. Leaving Time is no exception.
I will say that this was an extremely heavy, emotional book for me to read. The focus of the book is on grief, and mothers, and it is very heavy. I don’t recall many of Picoult’s other books having this intense sadness to them (another with intense sadness is The Storyteller which focuses on The Holocaust). I know some people don’t like to read books that make them cry, or upset them, and if you are like that, then this is not the book for you. This book devastated me, but I think it is Picoult’s best book yet.
Leaving Time will keep you up reading late into the night. When you get to the part where Virgil and Serenity go to Nashville, with about 100 pages left in the book, you will want to finish the rest of the book in one sitting. Be sure you’ve got a block of time so that you can do that. I could not put the book down after that point, and was up well into the night reading away until I finished. Really wish I hadn’t picked the book up at 10:30 at night!
I think this would be a good choice for book clubs, because as soon as I finished it, I couldn’t wait to discuss it. There are a lot of discussion points here, and I think there can be strong opinions/discussions to be had.
Bottom Line: A fascinating, devastating book that packs a wallop of an ending.
Further Reading You May Like:
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – a story of a circus, an elephant, and a wonderful love story. Doesn’t have the sadness to it that Leaving Time has.
- Psychic Eye Mysteries by Victoria Laurie – a cozy mystery series about a psychic who helps the police department solve crimes.
- The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith – a lovely series set in Botswana that will warm your heart and is infused with a love of Africa.
- And here are my favorites that Jodi Picoult has written (I haven’t read all of her books):
- The Storyteller – Sage is a baker who befriends Josef. Josef confesses to being a former SS officer and he has a request for Sage. A powerful book.
- Nineteen Minutes – this one is your more typical Picoult book – you’ve got a current issue (a high school shooting) and a court case. I read this book years ago and the ending has stayed with me.
- Plain Truth – the first Picoult book I read, about a murder in Amish country.
Now I need to read:
– The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence – a nonfiction account of Anthony’s taking in of an elephant herd. Several friends have recommended this book to me, and I was actually loaned this book while reading Leaving Time. And it turns out that Lawrence Anthony is mentioned in the last pages of the novel. So this one is a must-read.