Jenna Metcalf is a young teenager tired of not knowing what happened to her mother ten years ago. Why did she disappear when Jenna was only a few years old? Is she alive – or dead? Everyone around Jenna has accepted that Alice Metcalf ran away and doesn’t want to be found, but Jenna refuses to believe that her mother would leave her, so goes in search of someone who can find out what really happened. Jenna is joined by Serenity Jones, a psychic who specialises in finding missing people and Virgil Stanhope, a private detective who originally worked on the case.
I am always impressed with the amount of research that goes into Jodi Picoult’s novels. She clearly isn’t someone who is comfortable saying that something or someone simply ‘is’; she immerses herself in the world of her characters, making them as real as possible. Before Jenna was born, Alice Metcalf was a young woman working on an elephant sanctuary as a research scientist. We hear about Alice’s past through her journals, showing how devoted she is to her career and how she came to meet Thomas, Jenna’s father. Because she is so passionate, there is an incredible amount of detail about the behaviours of elephants, such as they stay with a calf for days after it has died, outwardly expressing grief. If you’ve ever been wonderstruck by a David Attenborough documentary, you’ll probably be fascinated by just how much there is to know about the cognitive and emotional intelligence of elephants. Leaving Time is in some ways both an accessible documentary and the means by which we come to understand Alice Metcalf and the events that lead up to her disappearance.
Jodi Picoult tries something a little different in Leaving Time – something I won’t reveal – and whether you enjoy the ending will depend on what else you’ve read recently. Leaving Time is narrated by 13-year-old Jenna Metcalf, a wise and mature teenage protagonist. She was such a sensible and determined character that I couldn’t help hoping her world wouldn’t be destroyed in the process of finding her mother. Jenna is a little more pro-active in Alice’s disappearance than a regular teenager would be, but this is why she is forced to enlist the help of two adults, especially as her grandmother refuses to talk about her daughter and her father is in a psychiatric hospital. Although they make an unlikely but workable team, Serenity was a character I couldn’t quite get behind because I’m unconvinced by psychics, but Jodi Picoult does an excellent job of drawing us into Serenity’s abilities from a position of doubt.
Leaving Time is Jodi Picoult’s latest and it’s exactly what you’d expect – a mystery that tackles themes of loss, grief, relationships and love, but this time all is not as it seems. It’s not one of my favourites, but there were moments where I was completely absorbed in the mystery and couldn’t figure out where it was going, although I did try! Jodi Picoult will always be one of my favourite contemporary mystery writers, so bring on the next one!
Published: 14th October 2014 (US) 4th November 2014 (UK)
Publisher: Ballantine Books (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)