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8 / 30 books. 27% done!

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Mormon Mentions: Jodi Picoult

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture. 


In Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, 13-year-old Jenna Metcalf is trying to find her mother, who disappeared ten years ago.  While reading a book about how to become a P.I., she sees this:

"The book had other suggestions, too: searching prison databases, trademark applications, even the genealogy records of the[sic] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  When I tried those, I didn't get any results." (Page 23)

I talked a bit about genealogy in yesterday's post, but I'm happy to revisit the topic.  The LDS Church is well-known for its interest in families—both in strengthening present bonds and linking current generations with their ancestors.  Why?  Because we believe that family bonds endure not just through mortal life, but throughout all eternity.  Families are Forever is a statement familiar to all members of the church (you're pretty much guaranteed to find it stamped, painted or cross-stitched somewhere in an LDS home).  

Because of this interest, the LDS Church has amassed a huge amount of family history resources.  Many of the records are digitized and available to the public for free on  Thanks to the enormous amount of hours volunteers (including Yours Truly) spend transcribing such documents, more are being added all the time.  With a couple clicks of your mouse, you can access records of all kinds—birth, death, marriage, census, passenger lists from immigrant ships, etc.  You'll be amazed at how much information you can find (even if Jenna Metcalf wasn't)! 

While Googling a disgraced psychic, Jenna comes across this (fictional) news story:

"In January 2004, Jones told Yolanda Rawls of Orem, Utah, that her missing five-year-old daughter, Velvet, had been brainwashed and was being raised by a Mormon family, touching off a wave of protests in Salt Lake City.  Six months later Yolanda's boyfriend confessed to the girl's murder and led police to a shallow grave near the local dump." (Page 35) 

I'm sure everyone's heard the rumor that the LDS Church is a cult.  It's not, although considering some of the practices of Mormon spin-off groups, I can understand the misconception.  I belong to a regular, old church, I promise.  Don't believe me?  Find a Mormon chapel near your home and attend a meeting or two (or three or five or ten ...).  You can see for yourself.     

Orem is kind of a wonky place, though—just ask Suey over at It's All About Books.  Kidding, Suey!  I love the Provo/Orem area.  The six years I spent living there were some of the most memorable in my life.    

Beautiful Elephant Book Unique, But Still Vintage Picoult

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Jenna Metcalf can't stop thinking about her mother, an elephant researcher who disappeared ten years ago after a tragic accident at the family's animal sanctuary.  The 13-year-old can't ask her father—his mental breakdown after the incident landed him in a psychiatric ward, from which he's never left.  Jenna's grandmother refuses to discuss what happened at all.  Jenna's clandestine Internet searches provide few clues to her mother's whereabouts.  Poring over Alice Metcalf's old journals, which are mostly filled with notes on elephants, doesn't seem to be helping either.  Jenna knows her mother is alive; she just has to find her.

Desperate, Jenna enlists the help of two unlikely people—Serenity Johnson, a once-famous psychic now exposed as a fraud, and Virgil Stanhope, the alcoholic P.I. who was the lead detective on the original Metcalf case.  As the trio investigates every lead they can find, they discover shocking secrets about the Metcalf Family.  The closer they get to the truth, the more complex and devastating the case becomes.  And yet, it all ends with a twist so surprising none of them see it coming.

Oscillating between the present and the past, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult unfolds in the voices of four intriguing narrators—Jenna, Alice, Serenity, and Virgil.  Each brings a different perspective, adding another layer to the already suspenseful plot.  The elephant element gives the novel even more depth as it explores themes of memory, grief, love, and family bonds.  With a hint of the supernatural mixed in with the author's usual mystery/family drama blend, Leaving Time is both unique and vintage Picoult.  As a long-time Jodi Picoult fan, I'd grown a little bored with her novels' trademark formula—this book made me believe again.  It's Picoult at her very best.  I know some readers felt a little gypped by Leaving Time's unconventional ending, but it proved to me that Picoult always has another trick up her sleeve.  I've longed look forward to her new books, but now I really can't wait to see what she does next!

(Readalikes:  Larger Than Life (a Leaving Time novella) by Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult, and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Leaving Time from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  
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