Prather’s Pick: A superb new novel
December 2, 2014
It seems that I have been reviewing lots of new mystery/suspense novels lately. That also goes for "Leaving Time" by Jodi Picoult, this week's featured book — except that this book is a little "different" (for lack of a better word) than most.
For one thing, the setting of "Leaving Time" is the New England Elephant Sanctuary, and elephants — especially one named Maura — figure into the plot. In fact, when writing the book, the author consulted research materials and academic papers written by scientists who have done, and continue to do studies with elephants and elephant societies. Picoult consulted other elephant experts, too, and the materials and persons consulted appear in the author's note and acknowledgments found at the end of the book.
Finally, Picoult addresses the plight of elephants worldwide, mostly due to poaching, and explains how readers can help. She writes in the author's note that it is her hope, after reading the novel, the readers will be more aware of the cognitive and emotional intelligence of the elephants and the need to protect them. All of this and then the plot in the novel — the book is "different" indeed.
The New England Elephant Sanctuary, the setting for much of the book, is fictional. However, the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee is very real, and Picoult based her fictional elephants on the real ones found there.
As the novel opens, Jenna, a 13-year-old girl, is living with her grandmother. Jenna has been looking for her mother, Alice Metcalf, since she was 11, but so far she hasn't found anybody who will help her. Jenna's grandmother doesn't want to discuss her daughter. Jenna's father, Thomas, is in a psychiatric facility. Even the Boone Police Department refuses to help. Her mother's trail is "stone dead."
So Jenna has been spending lots of time on the Internet. She pores over her mother's research journals, which contain notes about elephant grieving patterns. She saves her baby-sitting money to hire someone to help her find her mother. What she does know is that she was 3 years old when her mother came up missing. Her mother was found unconscious on the sanctuary property, about a mile south of a dead body, later identified as one of the elephant caretakers. Her mother was taken to the hospital, but when she regained consciousness, she vanished.
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The caretaker's death was ruled accidental. It was determined that she was trampled by an elephant. The sanctuary was closed, and the elephants were moved elsewhere.
Finally, one day Jenna puts on her mother's blue scarf and goes out in search of a psychic named Serenity. The psychic has her own problems that have left her doubting her powers, so she says she can't help Jenna. However, that night Serenity dreams, the first time in seven years. The dream involves an elephant and a blue scarf. Now she believes she can help Jenna find her mother.
Jenna also enlists the help of Virgil Stanhope, a private investigator who worked on her mother's case 10 years ago. Together, Serenity, Virgil and Jenna go on a search for Alice Metcalf. Each chapter in the novel is told from one of the character's point of view.
I never saw the end of this book coming! It caught me totally off guard. This is a book that can only be described as "awesome." The novel is superbly crafted. I like the book so much that I'm going to buy one for myself; that way, I can read it again whenever I wish.
Author Jodi Picoult has written 20 novels for adults, one novel for young adults, and even a musical for the stage. "Leaving Time" is published by Ballantine Books, 2014. The book, in hardcover, costs $28. You can also find it, with new books, at the Moffat County Library.