By Jodi Picoult. (Ballantine, 496 pages, $16.)
Jodi Picoult sure knows how to tell a story. Her latest bestseller, now out in paperback, takes us through a journey with teenage Jenna, who is on a mission to locate her mother, an elephant researcher who has been missing for years. But like most of Picoult's works, this one has a second story undergirding the first — it's about elephants, specifically female elephants, the fiercest moms on the planet. Picoult's ability to dive into research is on full display here, infusing the story with examples of elephant behavior in the wild. (They really don't forget and they grieve like we do, maybe better and longer.) It's a clever tool to explain what drives Jenna to search for her mother, using a washed-up psychic and a washed-up dime-store private eye, each of whom narrates parts of the book. (As does Alice, the mother.)
Picoult turns a clever phrase, and each section of the book is expertly woven with the one before, pulling the reader along. And as it becomes more improbable you don't suspect until you get there that there's a huge "Aha!" moment. Right. There. It leaves your mouth open and your eyes wet. You have to read it. You should. It's about love and loss and the lengths people will go to live with both.
Warning: After reading this you're going to want to go save some elephants and hug your mom, your daughter or both.
Jodi Picoult will speak at PenPals in Hopkins at 7:30 p.m. April 16 and 11 a.m. April 17. Tickets are $50. Call 612-543-8112 or go to www.supporthclib.org.
MARIA DOUGLAS REEVE,
Deputy metro editor
By Masha Gessen. (Riverhead Books, 273 pages, $27.95.)
If anyone is qualified to draw conclusions about the two brothers implicated in the Boston Marathon bombings, it's Masha Gessen. Gessen, who has lived and worked in Moscow, grew up as a Russian-speaking immigrant in Boston. She is a longtime journalist who covered the wars in Chechnya and wrote the Vladimir Putin biography "The Man Without a Face." But in "The Brothers," her book about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, she does not so much draw conclusions as provide sophisticated and important context.
Gessen understands the chaotic life of the immigrant — in particular, the nomadic lives of those from Chechnya and Dagestan who were displaced by Stalin and have been searching for a home ever since.
"Every few years the Tsarnaevs traveled thousands of miles in search of a better life," she writes, and by the end of the book it is clear to the reader that their time in America was just one more disappointing stop in a very long journey.
News reports portrayed the family as assimilating well initially and then slowly radicalizing. Gessen paints a more nuanced picture, writing of the family's difficulties finding work and money; Tamerlan's frustrations at not fitting in; his younger brother's cheerful, pot-infused drift through college; the murky, complicated stories they all told, not necessarily to mislead, but to shape their chaotic pasts into a sympathetic narrative.
The first half of the book, which concentrates on the complicated world of immigrants, is probably more revealing than the second half, which zooms in on things we largely already know: the events of the bombing and the immediate aftermath.
While Gessen doesn't seem to doubt the brothers' guilt, she raises many questions that are yet to be answered: How did they know how to build the bombs? Where did they build them? Who else was involved?
She also shines a light on the FBI tactics after the bombings, especially the harsh treatment of the younger brother's college friends — all immigrants, none apparently involved.
Gessen believes that neither brother had to be "radicalized" overseas in order to be moved to do what they apparently did. "One had only to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time, as many people are, to never feel that one belongs," she writes. "This is where the small story … joins the large story of the War on Terror."