by Jodi Picoult
When your mother "disappears" and leaves you behind at age three, your entire life is a mystery. The obvious one is, "where did she go?" followed by, "why didn't she take me with her?" and, "didn't she love me?"
These are the questions that haunt Jenna, the child left behind after a terrible "accident" at the elephant sanctuary her parents ran. Her father fell from reality and was institutionalized at that same time. Jenna pretty much faces her future alone, living with her grandmother who is somewhat emotionally detached. By the age of 13 she has acquired the skills and ability to attempt searching for her mother on her own.
In the Jodi Picoult fashion this story is told by several voices. First, the voice of Jenna which drives the search for her mother. Only three when her mother left, she relies on dim memories and her mother's journals to connect with her. She desparately needs to find the truth of her disappearance.
Next is the voice of Serenity, a has-been "psychic" that Jenna finds and enlists her help. Serenity had once been very good at what she does, working with police departments to find missing individuals or elusive leads on stalled cases, putting her in the public eye and garnering her some fame. Unfortunately, she hit hard times when her spirit guides leave her and she fails without their help. She is careful not to reveal that she is now a hack.
Another voice is that of Virgil, the once police detective, now private investigator, that worked on the original case. What he believed to be murder was eventually ruled an accidental death and no attention was given to the missing person, Jenna's mother. He blames himself for the poor investigation and is haunted by the disappearance of Jenna's mother. When Jenna comes to him, his demons convince him to help her, although reluctantly.
I was a bit surprised to have narrative by Alice, the mother who has gone missing. An elephant researcher, much of her narrative involves elephant behavior, particularly grieving. The research for this part of the book is very good and fascinating.
Having just finished The Storyteller by Picoult before picking up this book, I was primed to look for the twist. Jodi did not disappoint, and she caught me totally off guard. This mystery doesn't slowly unfold as we investigate it. There are some moments when I thought, "Oh.My.God - how did that happen?!?" but the real mystery is solved very near the end of the book. Despite where I was looking, it snuck up on me and slapped me across the back of the head.
I wholeheartedly give this book a five shot rating! It called me back each time I had to put it down. Around 50 pages from the end I could not put it down. And, very unexpectedly, tears rolled down my face. The only disappointment was one tiny little section near the end, maybe a page or two in length. I just didn't quite buy it. But I will not tell you more than that, no spoilers from me today.