I have to start off by saying that I'll post a short review with just some thoughts about the book in general and will then post spoilers for those who have read it and wish to discuss it with me at some point.
First things first, the synopsis:
For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.
Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons—only to later doubt her gifts. The second is Virgil Stanhope, a jaded private detective who originally investigated Alice’s case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they’ll have to face even harder answers.
As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. (Courtesy of Goodreads.)
This is definitely a departure from Jodi's more recent novels. There are no courtrooms or ethical dilemmas to focus on. Instead, it's more of a mystery but with many different layers and voices. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite books of hers, Second Glance. Both involve ghosts in some way, since in Leaving Time, Serenity Jones is a psychic who has connections with people who are deceased. Both talk about sacred areas of nature being taken over by humans. Both have a "cold case" aspect to them. And both are incredibly compelling stories.
I really liked the voices of the four main narrators of this novel. When I read the synopsis, I wasn't expecting Jenna to be a 13 year-old girl, but I've been more interested in reading perspectives of teens and pre-teens lately, given that some get snuck into the chick lit novels I've been enjoying. She's very mature for 13 anyway, which makes me forget that she's that young. With Alice, some of her chapters are just descriptive of elephants and their behavior, so it takes a while to get to know her for who she is, outside of what is going on with the elephants. That's when her part of the story really picks up. I would have liked to know more about Alice's relationship with her mother, as well as what her childhood was like. Based on the synopsis of her short story, Larger than Life, I may be able to get more information. (Here's what I was saying about not going home just yet...) I was visualizing Jessica Chastain as Alice in the movie version. (Maybe because she was on the recent cover of Entertainment Weekly when I was reading this book.)
Serenity is just fascinating. I love learning about how she came into her psychic abilities and how they have affected her life. She's unforgettable in description with her cotton candy pink hair and her elaborate make-up. I definitely need to read the novella, Where There's Smoke, which focuses on her. I think it was written as a prequel. For some reason, I would picture her being played by Laverne Cox sometimes and Lisa Kudrow at other times. Finally there's Virgil. I wasn't expecting to like him at all, but it turns out that he has a soft side. I couldn't place his age and thought he was in his 50s, but apparently he was in his 30s. I kept picturing Jeremy Ratchford from Cold Case though. And even though Thomas wasn't a narrator, I was picturing Andrew Gillies (Orphan Black) as him when he's older. (Welcome to my mind...)
The only thing that weighed down the book a bit was all the scientific details about elephants. Some were fascinating, but it was more the emotional aspects. It would have been nice to have a glossary to explain some of the terms more in detail. I think I just had trouble keeping up with which elephant was which unless they had a prevalent role in the story, such as Maura. Some of the parts involving cruelty to the elephants were hard to read about. The elephant information reminded me of the wolf information in Lone Wolf. Both were very well researched though.
Overall, it was very hard to put this book down and even harder to stop thinking about it now that I finally have. If you've read it and want to hear the rest of my thoughts with SPOILERS included, keep reading. If you want to read the book and come back later to hear my thoughts in full detail, stop now and this post will be waiting when you get back. In the meantime, I'm going to share links for a few of Jodi's books and then those who want the spoilers can move down past this section.
My thoughts with SPOILERS included:
I first need to say that I saw the ending coming a long time before it did. When Jenna found her toddler-sized sneaker in the back of Virgil's car, that just spoke volumes to me. I immediately thought of a certain popular movie from 1999 and how that turned out. So I wasn't surprised when things unfolded the way they did. I will admit that the scene with Nevvie in the old rundown house threw me a bit. I was beginning to wonder if I was wrong.
I liked the Matrix-esque feel that came about when Jenna and Virgil started to realize they were both actually dead. And then you find out who else was actually dead...that just floored me. Knowing that Serenity was surrounded by spirits this entire time and she ended up talking to them out loud anyway because she thought that everyone she encountered was real? Well that was just priceless!
I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concepts of ghosts or spirits being able to have physical contact with the living world. It just doesn't work for me. Like where was all the evidence that Virgil was carrying around and having tested? Was that symbolically dead? How was he able to drive a car? Was it a virtual ghost car? Same with Jenna's bicycle crashing into Serenity's scrying bowl. And how Jenna was able to wear her mother's scarf and necklace. How were they eating all the food that Serenity ordered at the diner? Or was that make-believe ghost food? And how do they age if they're dead? Wouldn't they be frozen at the age in which they died? Or is it like Serenity said in relation to seeing her deceased mother, that ghosts can come back in a form that they want people to see them in. I recently read another story involving a ghost being able to connect physically with the living and their objects. So it's not just Jodi putting this stuff in her story.
Thomas' situation reminded me of A Beautiful Mind. In the end, I just felt bad for him. He really was a victim in some ways, both of his own head and of Alice cheating on him, which lead to the eventual death of his daughter.
I'm still reeling from the whole situation surrounding Jenna's death and disappearance. Being the mother of a three year-old, it freaks me out even more. It was so heartbreaking. And the way it happened was terrible, like a nightmare. I couldn't believe Nevvie would take an innocent life just to avenge her daughter's suicide. How spiteful can one get that they would resort to murder? I think I'm reeling from that the most. Just the way everything happened. I can't even imagine what Alice must have been feeling. Just horrifying.
I'd love to discuss this story with anyone who has read it so that they were able to make it to this point in the review without yelling at me for ruining the plot.