An Elephant Never Forgets: Jodi Picoult’s ‘Leaving Time’ review

This review DOES NOT contain spoilers. You’re safe to read on!

“There is a reason people say being a mother is the hardest job in the world: You do not sleep and you do not get vacation time. You do not leave your work on your desk at the end of the day. Your briefcase is your heart, and you are rifling through it constantly. Your office is as wide as the world, and your punch card is measured not in hours but in a life time.” —Jodi Picoult, Larger Than Life

Some people would say that Leaving Time is about elephants, and they wouldn’t be wrong. A large part of the novel reads like a fascinating, can’t-put-it-down textbook about elephants and the way they live–their familial patterns, how they make lifelong relationships and how they grieve. I assure you, I will never look at the elephants at my local zoo in the same way. In fact, even though I’ve read plenty of reports about the upside of elephants in captivity and spoken to zoo keepers who tell me that the elephants in the zoo are settled and happy, the research Picoult puts forth in this novel have made me think twice about it.

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One of the elephants at my local zoo.

But what I really loved about Leaving Time was the relationship between mother and child. Three generations of women tell the story (one who you are introduced to in the novella, Larger Than Life, released before the novel came out, which is where the quote at the beginning of this post came from). None of the women are perfect people or mothers, but they manage to find and support each other in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

As usual, Picoult’s research is immaculate as is her uncanny ability to take a piece of the world you know nothing about and make it the forefront of all your waking thoughts. I even thought I’d guessed the end of the book, but she managed to trick me yet again. I’m not going to spoil it here, but I thought it was one of the better twists.

Now a little about her reading and signing event.

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 I found Picoult to be an excellent speaker, which is not always the case with writers! She read an abbreviated excerpt from Leaving Time, talked about elephant conservation and then opened up the floor for questions. Some of my favorite moments:

  • When asked about the difference between the ending she wrote for My Sister’s Keeper  and the grossly different movie ending, she said, “Your book is like your kid, right? You do everything you can for it, then you send it out into the world. Sometimes they go to college and become successful…and sometimes they become a prostitute.”
  • On how she gets her ideas: “Take the little things you think about, you obsess about, and find a reason and a way to say them. It doesn’t have to be straight out. Look for the little lightning bolts, and don’t ignore anything.”
  • And my favorite bit of advice from the evening for writers: “It doesn’t matter how I write or what my process is. Find out what works for you. Park your butt in a chair and write. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t check Facebook. That’s your time. If the kids are little, figure it out. Just sit down and write. You can edit garbage. You can’t edit nothing.”

And then, of course, I went totally fangirl when I got to meet her and have her sign my book. Sigh. I am so not cool under pressure.

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Jodi Picoult has been one of my favorite authors since I was fresh out of college and I discovered My Sister’s Keeper. It was the first and last time I will ever listen to one of her audio books, because I got to the end of it and had to pull off on the side of the road because I was crying so hard. If you’re not familiar with her catalogue of work, my favorite is Nineteen Minutes. It’s an amazing book!

I‘m linking up with Mama Kat today for her Writing Workshop. The prompt I chose was to write about something you read in November…so I thought it was the perfect time to share my review! If you want to know more, check out her website and link up!

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9 thoughts on “An Elephant Never Forgets: Jodi Picoult’s ‘Leaving Time’ review

  1. I just recently, within this year, discovered Jodi Picoult’s novels. I’m not sure how I had managed to miss her. I grabbed her novel, “The Ninth Circle”, and fell in love.. So, I definitely have “My Sister’s Keeper” on my reading list at the top. Great review and super cool you got to meet her and get a photo!

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    • Isn’t it great to discover a new writer like that? I recently found Diane Chamberlaine, who is apparently called “the Jodi Picoult of the south”. Her books are great there and there are more than 20 of them, so it should keep me busy for awhile!! Thanks for reading!

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  2. I’m so sorry. I was actually going over the books I read this year, and I seen listed Jodi Picoult’s novel that I listed in my earlier comment. The title of the novel is “The Tenth Circle”. I had to comeback and set it straight. This is the first book I had read of hers and I loved it. I don’t want to give anything away in it for those who haven’t read it yet. I don’t think this is telling anything the back cover doesn’t. In the book, the mother’s character is a professor and she teaches every semester, “Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell.” So, going with that amazing theme, the 10 circle was added by the author. I give it 5 stars. Thank you and I apologize about the name mix up. When I typed it earlier, something felt off. Then I was going over books I have read for this year, to do as a post, seen the title, and here I am. 🙂

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  3. I loved “My Sister’s Keeper”. Thank you for turning me on to the elephant book, her writing and elephants’ innate emotional/familial nature seem like a can’t miss!

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  4. I’m convinced this woman earns a BA in every topic she covers in her books. They are so thoroughly researched! Adding this one to my list…have you read The Storyteller? I died. It was amazing.

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