Ghost novel review: Leaving Time

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image courtesy of Abigail Larson

Happy Halloween, everyone!

I think this is my fourth book review for the R.I.P. reading challenge hosted by the Estella Society. Please hop on over there to see the other wonderful spooky books readers are discussing.

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Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Publisher: Ballantine Books, 480 pages
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

What it’s about: Teen Jenna Metcalf has been searching for her mother Alice for as long as she can remember. Alice disappeared over a decade ago following a trampling death at the New England elephant sanctuary she had founded with her husband. In Jenna’s quest for answers—did her mother die? Is she a fugitive from justice? A wandering amnesiac?—Jenna has watched news reports, combed through newspaper clippings, and surfed the internet. Now, in a moment of desperation, she turns to psychic Serenity Jones.

Serenity Jones was once the toast of Hollywood and the White House. That is until one hasty, and ultimately incorrect, reading led to heartbreak and scandal. Following the collapse of her empire and the apparent loss of her psychic gift, Serenity retreats to a small walk-up in a strip mall where she charges bored matrons $10 a reading.

As you might suspect, Serenity is unwilling to accept a teen client, especially one who is clearly vulnerable, but Jenna offers all her babysitting money and Serenity acquiesces. (No, Serenity is not as hard as she appears; like Jenna, she suffers her own demons…and a ghost or two.) Then Jenna locates one of the original detectives who responded to the elephant sanctuary tragedy, a man who regrets his inability to solve the case ten years ago. Remember the movie The Verdict when has-been lawyer Paul Newman says, “This is the case. This is the case”? For ex-detective Virgil Stanhope, this is the case. He is eager to reclaim his integrity, and helps Jenna convince Serenity to join the cause.

The narration follows four point-of-view characters: teenage Jenna, her mother Alice, the uncertain medium Serenity, and sobriety-challenged investigator Virgil. Working together, each of these damaged characters will uncover clues that will ultimately (and dramatically) lead to the solution of the mystery of Alice’s disappearance.

What I thought: Leaving Time is a mother-daughter book of the first magnitude. Think Joy Luck Club for the supernatural set. In fact, Leaving Time would make a lovely gift for Mother’s Day (in case any of you are thinking that far ahead). Picoult dissects the mother-daughter bond in all its iterations—from Serenity’s grief over her mother’s death to Alice’s thorny relationship with her mother to the hole in Jenna’s life caused by a mother she barely knew.

Something you’re going to come across if you read any Jodi Picoult novels, is her love of research. (I can relate, loving to find stuff out myself.) Just as I absorbed an astonishing amount of material about the US Eugenics Movement by reading Picoult’s other ghost novel, Second Glance, so did I learn 500% more than I could have guessed about elephants and their complex social systems and incredible majesty from Leaving Time. In fact, I gave this book to one of my students who was writing an essay on elephants in captivity.

Then there’s the whole aforementioned mother-daughter connection woven throughout this book that the elephants exemplify. Picoult writes, “there is a special and inviolable bond between the calf and its mother…In the wild, a mother and daughter stay together until one of them dies” (188). Not only that, but all elephant mothers care for all calves in a process called allomothering. Humans could take some lessons from elephants.

As far as ghosts go, the full understanding will not be clear until the end. In the meantime, the reader eagerly follows a reluctant psychic and a washed-up investigator who help Jenna solve her mystery and who take it upon themselves to allomother her.

Highly recommended.

 

 


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