I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Published by Simon & Schuster UK on 2014-10-09
Genres: Young Adult
Buy on Amazon
I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no one knew what to do with me. A group of emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers gather at a therapeutic boarding school where they are mysteriously picked for 'Special Topics in English'. Here, they are tasked with studying Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and keeping a journal. Each time the teens write in their diaries they are transported to a miraculous other world called Belzhar, a world where they are no longer haunted by their trauma and grief - and each begins to tell their own story. From internationally bestselling author Meg Wolitzer, and published by John Green's editor, Belzhar is a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance. 'Sure to be an all-too-relatable bestseller' TIME Magazine 'Wolitzer writes crisply and sometimes humorously about sadness, guilt, and anger' Publishers Weekly
I read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath when I was in high school, but like most things it went totally over my head. I liked the writing style, yet I did not relate because I had yet to experience isolation as strong as the main character’s. I think that if I were to read The Bell Jar now, I would have a completely different experience. Perhaps my reading of Plath’s book would be influenced by my reading of Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar, a young adult book with very strong ties to Plath’s book. I became enthused about Belzhar after reading about it on Novel Sounds‘s books she was excited for at BEA. Imagine my delight when I was able to score a copy and then when I was able to score a journal to go along with the book. Friends I was a tiny bit nervous about Belzhar, what if it was super literary? What if it, too, went over my head? Alas, those fears were totally unfounded and I discovered Belzhar to be an emotionally intense book that I was quite able to connect with.
Jam Gallahue is about to begin her semester at the Wooden Barn, a school that specializes in providing a therapeutic environment for traumatized teenagers. Jam finds herself at the Wooden Barn because her sweet, British boyfriend Reeve Maxfield has died. The two only had some forty odd days together, but to Jam, it was the perfect relationship and she fears she will never again find a relationship that will make her as happy. So, anyways, while at the Wooden Barn, Jam ends up in this exclusive class called Special Topics in English, where the class is small and students are taught by a rather eccentric teacher.
The students only study one author, and this semester’s author is Sylvia Plath. Mrs. Quenell, the teacher, gives the students a special assignment where they are to journal in these red leather journals that seem a bit battered. What happens is amazing, the journals transport the students to a world or a plane where their individual tragedies have not happened yet. And so, Jam finds herself reliving her time with Reeve twice a week. Yet, her journal begins to fill up and she doesn’t know how to handle that loss once the journal is full.
Honestly, at first I thought Jam was sort of a sad sack. I mean, she’s just so stuck on Reeve, never mind that their relationship was barely over a month. However, when the truth comes out in Belzhar about Jam, I actually kind of understood her a bit more. I looked at her from this mental health and trauma-informed perspective and then her actions and reactions definitely made a whole lot more sense. She’s actually a rather interesting character once she comes to terms with her trauma. If you are the sort who goes all in for character development and change, I think you’ll like Jam. What she experiences can best be described as transformative.
Full disclosure here, I was a tiny bit nervous to begin Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar because I assumed that because she writes books for grown ups that Belzhar might be all literary and hard to decipher what was going on. I thought it was going to be all full of big metaphors and literary interpretations or whatever and that I just would not get it. Also, I thought it might take me forever to read. And I know that I said this in the first paragraph, but that still doesn’t quite convey my initial impression. Thank goodness I just dived into this book. It was so good. It was actually really quick and easy to get into. I found myself finishing the book in no time. I found myself connecting with the different characters and their individual tragedies and traumas. Belzhar is absolutely a serious book but not an impossible one, ya know? I just really, really recommend it.