Book: Leaving Time
Author: Jodi Picoult
I’m always very excited to read the new Jodi Picoult book, she’s been one of my favourite authors since I was 13, and she more often than not writes an incredible book that quickly becomes one of my favourites. This year however, I was particularly excited to read this particular book because for the first time, I went to one of her book events whilst she was in the UK. It was great, she read a bit from Leaving Time, answered questions about her writing and writing process and she was so nice, she signed all four of the books I brought with me, plus her new one (I got a little overexcited with the number of books!) and I took a photo with her.
The premise behind this book is a thirteen year old girl, Jenna Metcalf, is looking for her mother who disappeared ten years ago after an elephant caregiver at their New Hampshire sanctuary was trampled to death by an elephant. She enlists Serenity Jones, a failed psychic and Virgil Stanhope, a private detective who was on the original case looking into the death at the elephant sanctuary.
I liked this book, but I have to admit it, as excited as I was to read it, it wasn’t one of my favourites of hers. It was quite different to anything she’s ever written before, which I liked, but reading this the year after I read The Storyteller, which had such an emotional impact and was such a stunning book, one of my favourites of hers, I found this a little underwhelming. It was quite slow to start off with, but it did get better once you started being able to piece together bits of the puzzle.
The research of this book, was as with all of Jodi’s books, very well done. I didn’t really know that much about elephants before I read this book, aside from the fact that there are two different types of elephant, African and Asian elephants and that the breeding herds are all female and led by a matriarch. This book gave a really great insight into elephant behaviour, I found out so much about how elephants grieve and their memory and that mother elephants stay with their daughters until either one of them dies, and it was very interesting and has made me very interested in these fascinating animals. I particularly liked the comparison between elephant and human grief, how elephants grieve in much the same way as we do, but at a certain point they are able to let go in a way that we as humans are unable to. I loved the way that the elephants at the elephant sanctuary appeared to have their own distinct personality, and basically any part that involved elephants was my favourite part of the book. Some people have said that the book is a little heavy on the elephant research but considering that Alice is a researcher, I thought it was necessary and very interesting.
I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was that made this book underwhelming for me, it just didn’t captivate me in the same way that some of my favourite Picoult books have (The Storyteller, The Pact, Nineteen Minutes, Plain Truth, My Sister’s Keeper, Second Glance). The characters were not her greatest, the exception being Serenity Jones, the failed psychic. Her personality was very unique compared to anyone Jodi Picoult has ever written before and I really enjoyed reading her chapters. I’m kind of a skeptic when it comes to things like psychics, but I really enjoyed reading about how psychics conduct readings, and also how easy it is to fake psychic readings. I liked the comparisons between psychics and detective work, because I had never thought about them as being similar before. I liked the relationship between Serenity and Virgil, although they were polar opposites they bounced off each other quite well.
I felt that Alice’s earlier chapters didn’t really fit well with the story, they just seemed a little out of place, since all they were was information about elephants, which whilst interesting, didn’t really keep the flow of the narrative going, it was much better when her chapters started to tell the events leading up to the night of her disappearance, that fitted with the other characters chapters much better. Her writing as always was lovely, that’s one thing you can count on when reading a Jodi Picoult book, you always get some lovely quotes.
As far as characters go, Jenna is very precocious and feels much older than a thirteen year old girl, but part of that must be down to her traumatic history of losing her mother and in some respects, her father to his mental illness. She wasn’t really the most likeable character though, although that can be said for most of the characters in Leaving Time, they seemed far more one dimensional than Picoult’s characters usually are.
Picoult’s books are famous for their twist endings, and I was quite pleased because I actually managed to guess the twist this time, and I never usually manage to, but luckily this didn’t detract from the story. Apparently it’s basically the same as a famous 90’s movie, but having not seen this movie, I wasn’t as annoyed as other people seem to be, I actually thought the twist was clever, although it did slightly confuse me, I have to admit, although I can’t say why without major spoilers and I don’t really like being left confused at the end of the book. You also have to suspend a lot of disbelief with this twist. Whilst her books usually examine ethical issues, and this one does examine animal rights, it is not as in depth as some of her older novels have been. Some people find the switching of character POV’s irritating, but since this is a narrative device that Picoult uses in a lot of her books (and I read a lot of books that use this same device), it didn’t really bother me too much, as long as you look at the name at the top of the chapter, it’s not all that confusing.
Whilst the mystery was engaging, it keeps you reading just to find out whether Alice is alive or dead, a murderer or a victim and the elephant portion of this story was great, as a book overall, it just doesn’t live up to any of my favourite Picoult books. It dragged a little and didn’t really pick up until the final third of the book when I couldn’t put it down, and I really should have been hooked long before. I like asking “What Would I Have Done?” at the end of a Picoult book and this just didn’t leave any room for that. I would recommend this book for long time Picoult readers but not for new readers, because this book is not one of her best, and you’d be better off starting with something like My Sister’s Keeper (my first!), The Storyteller, The Pact or Nineteen Minutes, which are far more engaging with better characters than this book.
My Rating: 3/5
The next book I will be reviewing is Undivided by Neal Shusterman, the final book in the Unwind Dystology, one of my favourite series that I have read this year.