Title: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
JENNA: Some people believe there was an elephant graveyard--a place that sick and dying elephants would travel to to die.
JENNA: "She's not dead," I murmur more to myself than to Serenity, because I like the way the words fill up with bubbles, like my blood had been carbonated.
Summary: Over ten years after her mother disappeared, thirteen-year-old Jenna decides she has to do something to find her. Her mother, Alice, was an elephant researcher working on a sanctuary run by Jenna's father and other employees in New Hampshire. One night when Jenna was quite young one of the employees is found dead on the grounds, trampled by an elephant, and Alice is found unconscious. The next day she checks herself out of the hospital and hasn't been seen since. Jenna's father, Thomas, had a complete mental breakdown and now Jenna has lived with her grandmother ever since that fateful night. Grandma does not approve of Jenna investigating Alice's disappearance. Jenna saves up her babysitting money and tries to get a reading from a local clairvoyant, Serenity. When that avenue doesn't pan out any helpful information, she attempts to hire Virgil, an almost-always-drunk private detective to help her locate her mother. Eventually the three team up. What they discover is shocking and very Jodi Picoultish.
Review: Four narrators tell the story: Jenna, Serenity, Virgil, and Alice, the lost mother, who tells a lot of the back story and gives out so much interesting information about elephants it feels like the book is worth reading just for that. The information about how elephants love their children and how deeply they grieve just made my heart sing. None of the characters seemed too realistic, though I found myself really cheering for Jenna and her quest. Virgil and Serenity seem a bit cliche, just what you'd expect from a private detective and a clairvoyant, though their back stories make them rather interesting characters, too. At one point there is some pretty creepy magical realism, which is hard to understand until the shocking conclusion. I'll tell you no more. You've got to read it to find out what happens.
At 398 pages, I'm counting it as a big book for the challenge.