By Ekta R. Garg
February 8, 2017
Genre: Women’s fiction
Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars
A mother to a three-year-old disappears, and 10 years later that daughter wants to know where her mother went. The girl ropes in two reluctant adults to help, and the three of them work together to solve the mystery with an end no one could have guessed. Author Jodi Picoult will make readers pause and want to start over at the beginning of the book as soon as they’re done with it in the thought-provoking novel Leaving Time.
Jenna Metcalf knows one thing for sure: her mother, Alice, left when was three years old. Her grandmother raised her, but her grandmother doesn’t fit the stereotype of a soft-hearted woman who bakes cookies and wears sweaters and comfortable shoes. Jenna knows her grandma loves her, but she desperately misses Alice. All she has of her mother is the journals Alice kept during her research into elephant grief in Africa.
She has read and re-read Alice’s journals hoping for some clue to her mother’s whereabouts. More disturbing is the question of what made Alice leave in the first place. The logical person to ask would be her father, Thomas, except that not long after Alice’s disappearance Thomas got admitted to a psychiatric ward. On his better days, he treats Jenna with gentleness. On his bad days, he sees her as his lost wife.
It doesn’t help that Alice’s disappearance came at the end of a night of tragedy. One of the employees at the elephant reserve in New Hampshire that Thomas built died in a horrible accident. The police found Alice unconscious and took her to a hospital. When she regained consciousness, she left the hospital before anyone could find out what happened that night. No one has seen her since.
But that isn’t good enough for Jenna. She’s spent hours looking into her mother’s disappearance and trying to solve the mystery, if only to get an answer to the question of why. Why would her mother leave her behind? Why didn’t she come back for Jenna at some point?
Having exhausted all other options, Jenna enlists the help of psychic Serenity Jones. By the time Jenna finds Serenity, the woman is doing fake readings for whatever meager prices she can charge. Despite her genuine talent of talking to the dead, a botched reading from her past leaves her unable to communicate with who have passed away. Serenity really doesn’t want to help Jenna, but Jenna eventually talks her around.
Jenna isn’t done recruiting her team, however. She tracks down Virgil Stanhope, the officer on the case when Alice disappeared. After copious cups of coffee to get him sober, Jenna convinces Virgil that helping her is better than spending the rest of his days at the bottom of a bottle. Virgil opposes the entire operation, but Alice’s disappearance has haunted him as much as it’s haunted Jenna.
The three start working through all the details of Alice’s disappearance. The more time they spend together, the more they realize the information from the police investigation isn’t the full story. What the three of them discover will keep them second-guessing until the end of their new search.
Author Jodi Picoult delves so deeply into her story world that before long readers will live and breathe the details of the characters’ lives. She handles younger characters and older ones with ease. Jenna’s voice during her chapters comes through loud and clear. Readers’ hearts will ache for her as she describes life without a mother. The fact that Jenna doesn’t even know whether Alice is alive or dead makes her longing worse, for both her and readers.
Picoult’s mastery with characters’ voices continues with Serenity and Virgil. Both of them have spent considerable time in their careers hiding from the truth. Both of them need Jenna as much as she needs them. They just don’t know it when they meet her. Picoult winds the threads of all three characters with such delicacy that readers won’t see the ending coming. When it does, everything makes sense in the most right way possible for the mystery.
I recommend readers Binge Leaving Time.