How is it that, after reading almost everything Jodi Picoult has ever written, I completely forgot about the requisite twist at the end? As always, in the last 25 pages of this 400-page novel, Picoult completely turns the book on its head. It’s completely mind-blowing the way she does it – challenging everything that came before in a single instant, as it dawns on the reader that she’s planted dozens of clues that simply haven’t been seen.
Picoult does this purposefully, I think, using her position as an author to color our world differently, change our perspectives, get us to reconsider the notions we take for granted. In so doing, she takes us out of our hum-drum existences, suspending us in a single ethereal, epiphany of a moment where plot lines reverse themselves and narrative structures shake but then right themselves in a way that feels balanced and utterly ingenious. It’s a special trajectory that we get to experience.
Admittedly, I had a harder time sinking into this book than I usually do. There were elements in it that I found un-believable and disbelief is something I struggle with terribly when it takes root in my brain. I thought Jenna, the 13-year-old girl that’s searching for her mother, acted way more mature, self-sufficient and confident than was warranted for her age. And of course any storyline that contains a psychic in it is going to be questionable for some readers. But then, the emotional heart of the story took hold and I started to care so deeply that these little nit-picks of doubt seemed irrelevant.
I did think the research-laden aspect of the book – the plight, and life and habits of elephants – was well-done, but overdone. Picoult has always seamlessly blended research and narrative, but here I thought the elephants were too much of an extended metaphor and that what Picoult was trying to say about her characters through them actually took away from the characters themselves.
Of course, Picoult wants us to see the elephants as characters, too, and one gets the sense that she cares just as much about their story as she does about her fictional characters. There’s a level of investment in these animals that I haven’t seen in her other works, an activist’s effort to change their circumstances with her writing. But because she is so taken with elephants. it kind of blurs what she’s trying to do with her narrative.
Though I have varying opinions on Picoult’s books, I will read anything she writes – she is an auto-buy of an author for me. Judging by how successful she is, I think many others feel the same way. They won’t be disappointed by this elephantine, topsy-turvy, three-dimensional ride!
Many thanks to Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, for my review copy!