Review: Belzhar By Meg Wolitzer

Belzhar

Release Date: October 1st 2014.
Publisher: Simon And Schuster Australia.
Source: From publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis From Goodreads:

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be at home in New Jersey with her sweet British boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.

My Thoughts.

4.5 stars.

I just knew I would LOVE this book. I love books where the characters are transported into an alternate reality and Meg Wolitzer has done an incredible job. Belzhar blew me away.

Jam is not dealing with life at all since the death of her boyfriend. She is stuck in a deep depression and can’t function normally. Desperate, her parents send her to a school for emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers. She is selected to participate in an exclusive class with four other teens who have had something traumatic happen to them called Special Topics in English. The class is rumoured to change the lives of the teens who attend it, but Jam doesn’t think that there is anything special about this class and doesn’t believe her life will change.

The class are told they will be studying Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. (I studied her at school and really liked her poems, and I think if you know her and her work you will appreciate this book on a deeper level. Not that I think you won’t connect with it if you haven’t read Plath.) They are given journals and told to write in them two nights a week – to be as honest as they want because the teacher won’t read them. Jam is reluctant to write in hers, but when she does, something amazing happens. She goes to a place where Reeve, her boyfriend, is alive and they can still be together.

Wondering if it just her, she tries to find out if the other people in her class are having the same experience. They soon discover that they all are. They decide to keep it a secret and they hold secret meetings late at night to talk to each other about what they went through and what they dreamt. I loved this aspect of the novel. I was afraid at first we would only get to know Jam’s story, but through these meetings we get to know the other characters and their stories, and I found myself as invested in them as I was in Jam.

Jam is the make or break of this book. You’ll either like this book or you won’t depending on how you view Jam. I think people will either sympathise with her or they won’t. I think she will be misunderstood by a lot of people, especially after her whole story comes out, and some people will judge her too harshly. But she is just a broken girl who I think makes significant change in her life, and she is a lot stronger by the end of the book than at the beginning. Just because her illness isn’t physical, doesn’t mean she doesn’t have to try just as hard to get better.
I haven’t read a book that deals so well with mental illness. Stories like this are so important to help understand people with these conditions.

Both heartbreaking and heart-warming, Belzhar is a magical, sad but hopeful, contemporary story of a group of teens just trying to deal with the harsh hand life has dealt them. It is full of surprises and shocking revelations that will leave you breathless. An incredible, well written read that will linger with you long after you’ve closed it. I highly recommend it.

You can add it to your Goodreads HERE.

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9 thoughts on “Review: Belzhar By Meg Wolitzer

  1. I think you’re right about Jam – people have tended to either like or hate her. Unfortunately I’m one of the haters 😛 I could not connect with her at all. And it’s a shame, because I love Sylvia Plath, and I’m pretty sure I would have loved this book if it was narrated by someone else.

  2. I’m glad you liked it! I think Jam probably will be judged harshly in the book blogging world. 😉 But…then I guess that depends on what kind of person we are? Like, I know I’m find it hard to be compassionate sometimes, so Jam did come across super whiny/needy to me. But that all aside, I always feel there’s a problem with books when the narrator only starts to feel better after a breakup because she’s got a new guy. Um. What does that say about herself?! That she can’t function as a single girl?! It always worries me. 😐

    1. I hadn’t thought about that while I was reading, but I know what you mean. And I found it was a bit awkward that when she started dating, she kept visiting Reeve in Belzhar.

  3. Fantastic review! I am really looking forward to this one. Amazing cover, synopsis, and so far I’ve heard encouraging things about it. I’m also quite curious to see how I’m going to perceive Jam, however I’ll bear this review in mind while I’m reading it. I’m not 100% sure it’s something I’m going to LOVE, but I guess I’m never going to know until I read it. 🙂

  4. This one left me so torn Rochelle, my heart broke for Jam, but then I ended up incredibly conflicted afterwards. It was such a magical read though wasn’t it. I actually connected to Jam too, where most readers haven’t so far. I think we tend to forget that not all teens are how YA portrays them, as smart choice making individuals. I was never that self aware or emotionally adjusted as a teen. I’m so glad you enjoyed this as much as I did. Incredible review ❤

    1. Thank you. And I think you’re right about readers forgetting not all teens are how YA portrays them. I was conflicted too, but I still had compassion for Jam, which a lot of readers don’t seem to be having.

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