Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult tells the story of lost souls trying to find their place in the world. Alice Metcalf grew up knowing that she wanted to study elephants. They always fascinated her. Traveling to Africa to study them, Alice, upon watching the elephants’ behavior, decided to focus her scientific research on how elephants grieve. Alice’s life changed drastically when Thomas Metcalf walked into her life. She soon found herself becoming a mother and wife. Balancing those two new roles with her scientific research and helping Thomas run his elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire quickly became difficult to do. She struggled balancing all of her desires and found herself in a sticky situation she could not easily see a solution to. Alice was a beloved researcher, wife, and mother, but it’s been over a decade since anyone has seen her. Alice disappeared under mysterious circumstances more than ten years ago and left behind her husband, small daughter, and all the elephants that she had become especially attached to.

Alice’s daughter, Jenna, has grown up into a thirteen year old who lives with her grandmother since her father has gone mad with grief and is locked up in a facility. With her father never seeming to recognize her and her grandmother refusing to even discuss her mother, Jenna refuses to believe that her mother just up and abandoned her. Something horrible must have happened to Alice because the opposite, that she chose to abandon Jenna and start a new life, is unthinkable. Jenna decides that she must do more to find her mother.

Jenna finds herself on the doorstep of Serenity Jones, a psychic with a legitimate gift who fell from grace and has not had contact with any actual spirits or ghosts in years. After contacting Serenity, Jenna searches out Virgil Stanhope, the detective who first worked her mother’s disappearance and the unfortunate accidental death of one of her mother’s coworkers. The night her mother disappeared was a mess and nothing seemed to be handled correctly. Jenna figures that Virgil must know more about Alice’s disappearance. If not, Virgil surely botched her mother’s disappearance and he owes Jenna the opportunity to find her mother. He has to help. Both Serenity and Virgil soon find themselves wrapped up in the web of Jenna’s grief, anger, frustration, and hopefulness that her mother will soon be found. Jenna, Serenity, and Virgil all seem to be wandering around lost until they are in each other’s company when things finally start falling into place.

This book is full of twists and turns. The twist at the end totally caught me off guard and 12 hours after finishing it, I still find myself trying to figure out how I never figured out the ending. This book is a beautiful piece of fiction. Picoult once again has written a deeply moving book that examines how the love between mothers and daughters defines one’s entire life.


This book is also available in the following formats:

They Left Us Everything

They Left Us Everything, Plum Johnson’s account of her parent’s illnesses and deaths, is refreshing in its candor and will resonate with anyone who has gone through something similar. She’s candid, too, about her family.

Plum grew up in Singapore, Virginia, and finally Canada – which was a compromise for her British father and American mother. Her parents spent the ends of their lives in the family home on Lake Ontario. Her mother was from Virginia – her ancestors and cousins were attorney generals and ambassadors. While her mother was exuberant, eccentric, and a writer of letters and a copywriter in her youth, her father was British, reserved, and quite eccentric, as well. Their relationship endured but was volatile and complicated.

Plum and her three brothers all have skills, roles and competencies related to caregiving. Some are hands-on and some help at a distance with financial, legal and real estate matters. Sibling Suppers are mostly supportive and cooperative, but, as she is the oldest, divorced, single, and the daughter, Plum is most directly involved in her parents’ care and the settling of the estate.

Plum sometimes compares her life at 63 with her mother’s relative freedom at the same age.  She details the steps and the incredible energy and patience it takes to do routine tasks – like going to the mall. Just reading the description is exhausting.  “It feels as though the last twenty years have leached out my patience, my empathy, my compassion – the best parts of me- until I feel unrecognizable, a person I don’t like very much.” “Nineteen years, one month, and twenty-six days of eldercare have brought me to my knees.”

The house is as much a character in this book, as her various family members. Plum loves the house and it’s setting by the water, and it’s through the house that she comes to terms with the contradictory feelings she had toward her parents. She is overwhelmed by her parent’s house and it’s contents, but she doesn’t succumb to the temptation to discard and give away their belongings immediately and without thought. She ultimately decides that those items are a curse, but they are also a blessing. “This house I am now slicing apart is theirs – the place that we’d taken for granted would always be here as a backdrop to our lives.” Later, she says, “Now I believe this clearing out is a valuable process – best left to our children. It’s the only way they’ll ever truly come to know us…”

In the end, she acknowledges the truth of what funeral guests tell her: “When your mother dies, you’ll wish you’d asked her some questions.” When it’s too late, she realizes, “Now there are questions I didn’t even know I had.”

 

 

Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now Edited by Ann Imig

listen to your motherAs most children will tell you, the phrase “Listen to your mother” is something that you hear from a young age to even adulthood. After all, mother knows best. But how do all those mothers seem to magically know about all those mothering tricks? Read this book to find out. Ann Imig has brought together a wide variety of essays in her book, Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now that draws opinions and experiences of motherhood and, more widely, from parenthood in general from the point of view of children, parents, and grandparents.

The title of this book may be “Listen to Your Mother,” but the views presented within this collection range from surrogacy to LGBTQ parenting to adoption to first-time moms to being empty nesters to special-needs parenting and many, many others. Some stories are heart-breaking, some are happy, while others still seem to be a mixture of both. Imig and the writers are voicing their tales of motherhood, the ones that they feel are uniquely their own, but have come to realize that the underlying tales of family are relatable across age, race, and family type. One son speaks of how he was raised by two mothers, two men discuss how it is to raise their children without a mother, while another discusses how her mother raised her to be strong and independent and how she hopes to raise her daughter the same way. Check out this book to read the hilarious and intriguing stories presented within.

Some of the essays in this book have come from the Listen to Your Mother movement, a speaker series with a Youtube Channel and a website put together by Imig with the mission to support motherhood by giving voice to motherhood and celebrating the diversity present within motherhood by live, original reading performed onstage.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

After hearing a glowing review on NPR praising this witty and charming book, I quickly placed a hold on a copy of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  Told primarily through emails, faxes, letters, and transcripts of taped conversations, the novel explores the events leading up to agoraphobic housewife Bernadette Fox’s disappearance.  She and her Microsoft bigwig husband promise their gifted daughter Bee that if she gets straight A’s at her prestigious middle school, she can have anything she wants as a graduation gift.  Bernadette’s worst nightmare comes true when Bee succeeds and chooses a family trip to Antarctica.  She attempts to cope with this sudden obligation to be around (gasp) people; she even hires a virtual assistant in India to make all the vacation preparations!  That’s why it is such a shock when Bernadette disappears just before they are due to embark on the trip.  Bee compiles these documents looking for clues, hoping against all evidence that she can bring her mom home again.

Semple was a writer for Arrested Development and it shows in this book, in which witty dialogue and over-the-top scenarios abound.  Bernadette’s feud with the PTA moms at Bee’s school, most notably with the one who lives next door, is ridiculous and hysterical.  Neighbor tresspasses to insist that Bernadette remove some unsightly blackberry vines?  Better erect a 5 ft. x 8 ft. billboard telling her to stay off the property, of course!  But despite all of the wacky humor, at the heart of this novel is a very touching mother-daughter relationship.  Bee will stop at nothing to find out what happened to her mother, and it is her unconditional love and determination that will render you unable to stop reading until you find out how their story ends.

It’s All About Mom

 

Here are some new books that should tie-in well with Mother’s Day.  After reading the reviews, I know I’m looking forward to reading both of these titles.

In Daughters-in-Law, author Joanna Trollope explores how Rachel’s life has changed since her three sons have grown up and married.  Once accustomed to being the center of her family, she now finds her position as matriarch slipping away.  She also realizes that other women — the daughters-in-law — are now the main focus in her children’s lives and it’s a bit disconcerting.  Will she be able to find a way to still preserve the relationships she’s held dear for so long?

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin received a starred review in Library Journal, which declared that it “should be one of this year’s most deserving bestsellers.”  Basically, the story concerns a family’s search for their mother, who has gone missing in a crowded Seoul subway station.  In probable fashion, the children argue over how best to find her, while her husband returns to their country home in hopes she’ll return there.  Meanwhile, each recalls their own memories of her and wonder if they have lived up to her expectations.  The book concludes with Mom’s own version of the story, and the reader learns what really happened that day.  Sound intriguing?  Check it out and have a Happy Mother’s Day!

Mothers & Other Liars by Amy Bourret

If the title doesn’t grab you, the story will.  In a style similar to Jodi Picoult’s, author Amy Bourret takes a controversial subject and somehow manages to sympathetically portray both sides of the issue in Mothers and Other Liars.

Ruby was only 19 when she discovered an abandoned infant in a trash can at an Oklahoma rest stop.  She raises the baby girl as her own. After nine years they have settled into a comfortable and happy life in Sante Fe, New Mexico, with a “family” of very supportive friends.   Then one day she happens to read a magazine article about a baby who was unintentionally kidnapped by car-jackers.  Ruby realizes that life as she knows it is over.  Will she choose to move to Mexico and live a life on the run? Or will she present herself to the authorities and suffer the consequences?  Her choice is further complicated by that fact that she is pregnant by her boyfriend of 3 years.

As a Yale Law School graduate who practiced included child advocacy law, author Bourret brings real-life experience to the tale.  The courtroom scenes seem particularly dramatic.  However, the real kicker comes at the end of the story.  Sorry — but you’ll need to read it to find out what happens!

All Iowa Reads – Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos

The Iowa Library Association has announced the All Iowa Reads title for 2011 – it’s  Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos. Be sure to watch the Davenport Public Library newsletter for the announcement of programs and discussions of this book throughout the year.

In 1978, Hope Jones, mother of three, is swept away during a tornado. Her body is never found. Twenty-five years later her children – Larkin, Gaelan and Bonnie – still struggle to understand their loss and to find their place in the world. The sudden death of their father brings them all home again, forcing them to come to terms with their history and each other.

Set on the open plains of southwest Nebraska, the writing and atmosphere evoke the rural Midwest effortlessly – open skies, violent weather, the restrictions and freedoms of small towns. This is a complex story of grief, love and healing with touches of magical realism and characters that you come to care about.