Jenna Metcalfe is a teenager who has been raised by her grandmother due the disappearance of her mother after an accident involving an elephant in the New England Elephant Sanctuary, which Jenna’s parents owned, and where they worked and lived. To find Alice, her mother, Jenna contacts a psychic with questionable skills, and the former detective, now turned P.I., who investigated the accident in the sanctuary the night it happened.
Elephant research on grief, marital problems, and mental illness are some of the ingredients of this unusual story.
What I like about Jodi Picoult is her ability to write about ethical dilemmas and make the reader question his or her assumptions. Her stories and characters are seldom black and white, but rather an uncomfortable shade of gray. Picoult also doesn't take sides, she doesn't pepper one character with more or less negative traits than another; they are always nuanced, multidimensional.
In Lone Wolf, the only other novel by Jodi Picoult that I have read, the plot was a researcher with questionable parenting skills who falls into a coma and his kids must decide whether to terminate his life support. Also, in Lone Wolf the underlying theme was the analogy between a wolf pack and a human family. In Leaving Time, however, Picoult chooses to focus on elephants; how elephants express grief and how a herd of elephants is a cohesive unit in which every individual contributes to bringing up a calf. The analogies in Leaving Time are: 1) how elephants grieve compared to humans, 2) how elephant mothers compare to humans based on the bond they form with their calf due to their long pregnancy state, 3) the bond between mothers and babies in both species.
Although Leaving Time has a slow development, I was so invested in the story that I wanted to finish fast to know how it ended, and what an ending it is! It reminded me of at least two well known movies that I’d rather not mention for fear of spoiling it. Suffice is to say that I didn’t see that coming in a million years, a testament of powerful storytelling.
Back in February I reviewed Hannah’s Dream by Diane Hammond, which was also a book about elephants, though it was sweeter and more focused on the elephant than Leaving Time.