Saturday, October 11, 2014

Leaving Time: A Novel

Title:  Leaving Time: A Novel
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2014. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0345544927 / 978-0345544926

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness!

Favorite Quote:  "I understand why Jenna needs this:  Otherwise, it's not a complete circle, it's a line, and lines unravel and send you off in directions you never intended to go. Endings are critical ... They need the details of those last few moments, because it is all they will have for the rest of their lives."

I did not see that ending coming! If you want to read this book, please do not read anything with a spoiler. You will not be able to read the book. It did remind me of one movie in particular, but I won't say what. That would completely give away the story.

Jenna is a precocious thirteen year old living with her grandmother. Her father Thomas is in a mental institution. Her mother Alice disappeared when Jenna was three. At that time, Thomas and Alice run an elephant sanctuary. Alice's specialty was studying elephant memory and grief and in rescuing at risk animals. The events at that time led to a woman's death, Alice's disappearance and the dismantling of the elephant sanctuary.

Jenna has no memory of the exact events that led to her mother's disappearance and her father's breakdown, and her grandmother won't speak of them. Yet, Jenna strongly believes that her mother would never have abandoned her. She studies what reminders she has left of Alice. She continually searches online to find some trace. Unfortunately, to no avail.

To further her search, she seeks out the help of a psychic Serenity. Serenity, at one point in her life, was a well known psychic. She is now what she refers to as a "swamp witch" - a fraud who makes up and delivers what her clients want to hear. After first refusing, she feels compelled to help Jenna.

Jenna also seeks out Virgil Stanhope, one of the detectives who investigated the events surrounding Alice's disappearance. He is no longer with the police force, working instead as a private detective. Alice's case is one that haunts him - the one that got away. What could he have done differently? What should he have done differently? Jenna's appearance in his life brings all these memories back, and he wants an answer.

The story is told in alternating first person narratives through Jenna, Virgil, Serenity, and Alice. From Jenna's perspective, we get the young woman who looks for closure and to finally know that she was not abandoned. From Virgil, we get the detective applying his contacts and his experience to solve a mystery that went unsolved years ago. Serenity brings in the spiritual dimension and the existence of ghosts and spirits who linger in this world. Alice's sections gradually fill in the story of what led to the events of that night. The suspense of actually happened that night lasts until almost the end the of the book and leads to an ending that was a complete surprise to me.

What I love about Jodi Picoult's books is that she tackles tough topics, and her books always leave me with new knowledge and with a lot to think about. The books present a primary point of view and do it well with research and a story that makes you read on and on until the very last page. As a reader, you can agree or disagree, but either way the point is well made. For most of her books, I usually find myself putting a lot of things in my life on hold to get to the end of the book. Then, I find myself putting them away, but continuing to think about them days later. This one follows the same pattern.

This book takes on the issue of grief. Wikipedia defines grief as "a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, spiritual, and philosophical dimensions."

Two things are clear from this definition. Grief, though normally associated with death, can occur as a result of any loss. Jenna grieves because she feels like her mother abandoned her. Virgil grieves for the unsolved case that haunts him still. Serenity grieves both for the burden that her skills as a psychic bring and the realizations that come with the loss of those skills. Alice, Thomas, Gideon, and Nevvi all grieve individually through their own sorrows.

Grief also manifests itself differently in each person - physically, emotionally, behaviorally, and spiritually. The reactions to grief and the actions grief can lead to are completely individual. Jenna refuses to quit searching for her mother. Serenity regrets the loss of her abilities but at the same time hides from the notoriety her abilities brought. Virgil walks away and attempts to forget through drinking. Alice disappears. Thomas suffers a breakdown. Others seek revenge from what they identify as the cause of their grief. Different people, different responses.

This book addresses grief through the human characters, of course. It also presents a lot of research on elephant behavior and memory - particularly the elephant's ability to grieve. The parallels are amazing. The PBS documentary Unforgettable Elephants makes the point that "Through years of research, scientists have found that elephants are capable of complex thought and deep feeling. In fact, the emotional attachment elephants form toward family members may rival our own." The author's note at the end of this book presents additional resources and ways in which an interested reader can impact conservation of these amazing animals.

In an interview, Jodi Picoult describes the book as follows: "This is a book about the lengths we go to for those who have left us behind; about the staying power of love; and about how three broken souls might have just the right pieces to mend each other. I won’t tell you much more, but I guarantee that when you finish, the first thing you’re going to want to do is reread the book." Pretty much. I want to reread the book to see if I could have seen the ending coming. I don't necessarily agree with everything she has to say, but I so always appreciate the way in which she says it. I also cannot wait to see what Jodi Picoult tackles next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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