Stephan Lee
March 07, 2014 AT 04:00 PM EST

After last year’s The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult is coming back later this year (Oct. 14) with another novel centering on a young female character — only this time, elephants are involved. Read on as Picoult teases Leaving Time for us, and see the exclusive cover reveal below.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The motif of this book cover is different from your previous ones. What was the thought process behind it?

JODI PICOULT: Leaving Time is about an elephant researcher, Alice Metcalf, who disappears the night a caregiver is trampled by an elephant at the sanctuary she runs with her husband. The only witness is her three-year-old daughter, Jenna, who can’t remember anything. The novel opens ten years later, when Jenna enlists the help of Serenity, a failed psychic, and Virgil, the former detective on the case who is now an alcoholic, to help her find her missing mom. The relationship between Jenna and her mom is the first link to elephants — in the wild, an elephant mom and daughter are together until one or the other dies — and Jenna just can’t accept that possibility. She tries to find the answers in her mother’s journals about elephant cognition. The entwined tendrils on the cover bring to mind a mother and baby elephant, somehow. It’s a beautiful, eye-catching, evocative cover — that dreamy blue makes me think of Jenna lying on her back and staring up at the sky, willing her mother to come back to her. I love that the image is compelling and different from my others!

Tell us what you did to research this book.

I’ve visited South Africa numerous times on book tour. For this book, I asked my South African publicist to find me an expert on elephant behavior and cognition — and she did! I got to visit Botswana with Jeanetta Selier, of the University of Kwazulu-Natal. We spent days observing elephant herds and behavior, identifying the individual elephants, collaring elephants for studies. She taught me everything you will learn about in this book!

What are some facts you learned about elephants that surprised you?

Elephants have amazing brains, capable of learning, remembering, empathy, cooperation, and understanding grief and loss. For example, elephants that come across the bones of other elephants show behavioral changes, getting quiet and somber, and touching the bones and carrying them gingerly. Elephants have broken into research camps to retrieve bones of family members, and have brought them back to the spot of that elephant’s death. Even years later, elephants will return intentionally to the site of the death of a family member, like we might go visit a gravesite. They seem to have trouble letting go of loved ones, much as we do.

Here’s the first look at the cover!

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