Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
Synopsis: For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.
Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest: Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons, only to later doubt her gifts, and Virgil Stanhope, the jaded private detective who’d originally investigated Alice’s case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they’ll have to face even harder answers.
My thoughts: I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like Leaving Time. Ever.
So first off, I was kind of confused by the cover and the synopsis together. They’re good separate, don’t get me wrong, but the synopsis made think more like the crime/thriller/who done it? type and the cover looks like a feel-good Hallmark spinoff. So I was torn on what to expect. And, turns out, actually reading it didn’t help me at all.
Leaving Time is seriously so strange because it’s so many things at once. Jenna, our protagonist, is thirteen and that led me to believe it would lean slightly more to the YA feel–the chapters switch POVs, I found out, and the three other people who take the stage are all adults. So there was no YA feel at all, which is totally fine. Like I said, I was just trying to figure out what to expect and where this was going. The synopsis told me all about this desperate search for a mother that went missing in a freak accident, leading me to believe the genre would lean more toward a thriller type. While definitely intense at times, the overall feeling was slow and thoughtful and deep and very grounded. Not bad, I was just so confused.
I thought the elephant thing was so cool and different–I loved the idea. Alice’s devotion to these animals was admirable and intriguing, and I thought it brought so much to her as a character that was so focal to the story and yet didn’t play a part in the present storyline. The elephant grief research was super interesting, especially with the kind of story Leaving Time told, however by the end I was getting sick of pointless (and seemingly redundant at times) elephant stuff when all I wanted to know was WHAT HAPPENED TO ALICE. Seriously. Holy crap. Like, the book was good through the whole thing, but the last quarter or so picked up as evidence was dug up and things started to fall into place but then fall apart…man, I was dying. And it was so amazing because I drove myself crazy wanting to figure the mystery out, and yet the tone and feel of the book was never mysterious or action intense. It was always deep and slow and thoughtful and…I just couldn’t figure it out. The whole book I was just pleasantly confused and endlessly curious as to what really happened that fateful night when Jenna’s life was changed forever.
Let’s talk about our cast of POVs for a second: it was hard to tell the difference between all of them sometimes. I wish there had been a little more voice to differentiate between them, but the characters themselves were solid and distinct and I liked all of them. Virgil was the tough, harsh washed up detective running from the glory days by drowning down a bottle. Serenity was the eccentric and psychic loner that used to be famous and was still dealing with the repercussions of her very public crash. I was wary of Serenity at first–come on, a psychic?–but eventually I learned to love her and Virgil, especially as they grew fonder of Jenna. They were the perfect mismatched team and I loved them. I loved how they all brought a past to the table, and all their pasts wove into their presents and futures. Very beautifully done.
And Alice. Oh Alice. How I thought I knew you, and then I’d discover something else and think I had you figured out, only to get proved wrong. Again and again. Was she running? Chasing? Guilty? Innocent? Dead? Alive? The real question for Jenna, the only one that really mattered: did she purposely leave her daughter behind or did she not have a choice? Because, surely, if Alice loved her daughter she would’ve never left her behind. The more I learned about Alice the more I was captivated by her, and while I didn’t agree with some of her choices, I understood her, and I felt for her so much.
So there I was, just plugging along, reading all about Alice and Jenna and Serenity and Virgil, trying to figure out what happened that night, still confused about the book as a whole, dropping my jaw in shock every five minutes because everything was unraveling and nothing was as it seemed, and then…
Holy crap. That twist.
It took me a solid, very confusing chapter to figure it out, but I will always remember that one line at the beginning of a new chapter told in Virgil’s perspective that clicked everything in place for me. I was sitting on my couch and I had to put the book down for a minute. I tried to find a loophole in it, but the more I thought about the book, the more everything made sense. Everything. Every tiny little detail that bugged me (which I won’t mention because I don’t want to give anything away) made sense. In one swoop, it all came together.
Once I swallowed some of my shock, I picked the book back up and kept going. The ending–and the truth about that night–was so incredibly tragic, but woven together so beautifully. I couldn’t even handle it. And, yes, there were things I just had to brush by that were a little on the weird side for me, but overall I thought it was so well done.
It wasn’t necessarily a happy ending, but, really, how many happy endings in life are there? Leaving Time brought a realism and beauty to something spectral and devastating. Sparing all clichés, it reminds that love conquers all and that healing is in the aching. I imagine Alice and Jenna will haunt me for many years to come.
Rated 4.5/5 for beautiful writing and characters, an intriguing storyline, awesome elephants, and a twist that nearly broke my jaw because I dropped it so hard