September 11, 2014

Latest Read: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer 
Publication date: Sept. 30, 2014
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Category: Young Adult - Contemporary
Source: Received ARC at BEA
Summary: 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. (Adapted goodreads.com)

The good
Belzhar was this uniquely written story of one girl's grief. It's a contemporary book that does require a certain suspension of disbelief but it absolutely worked here. And at the heart of it, it's about the many different ways a person can deal with their pain and hope to come out of it. Jam Gallahue's parents are sending her off The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in Vermont, after she has trouble coping with the death of her boyfriend Reeve Maxfield. We don't know much about their relationship or how he died, we just know that Jam isn't dealing with it well. Even though the last place she wants to be is at The Wooden Barn with a strange roommate and attending school, she put into the exclusive Special Topics in English class. What she doesn't know at the time is that this class will end up saving her in strange and mysterious ways. (Tell me that doesn't intrigue you!)

This class includes Jam plus four other people we get to know along the way. Their first and main assignment is to keep a journal for the semester, which they have to write in twice a week and hand in at the end of the term. It seems easy enough. Until they each write in the book for the first time and it leads them to Belzhar. It's hard not to wonder if they're going crazy, if this is "real", what/why/how is this happening? In the end, I don't think it's important to necessarily dwell on the answers to those questions. Because the main thing is, this experience brings the five of them together. It forces Jam out of her self-imposed seclusion and allows her to become friends with these people. Through those friendships and interactions, we learn about her character and what exactly happened to her. Which resulted in an extremely clever twist I didn't see coming. It reveals a lot of Jam herself and while I didn't necessarily relate to her, I did connect to her inner conflict and pain which made me root for her friendships/relationships all the more.

(Super minor) reservations
Honestly, I can't think of anything in particular although looking back, I do have this feeling of just wanting a little bit more. More on Jam (particular her psyche before all of this) and her family. But otherwise, I was impressed with this book!

Do I recommend?
I do! It's very definite and like I said, cleverly written. I'm looking forward to reading more of this author's books!

Collaborative feature with Alexa! 

Is there a classic novel that captures how you've felt at some point in your life perfectly?
This question was so hard! (Thanks Alexa for coming up with it!) I kept trying to think of classic books and I ultimately kept coming back to Anne of Green Gables. There are two things about this book that really resonated with me when I was younger and it was became I related them to my own life. One, Matthew (in hindsight) reminds me of my grandfather. Like Matthew he was this strong, quiet but loving man who doted on me. The same way Anne refers to Matthew as being a kindred spirit reminded me of how close I was to my grandfather. The other is the childhood best friend she finds in Diana. One of my own best friends who I've known since I was 7 years old and who also loves Anne of Green Gables (but the movies) is very much my Diana. She and I saw ourselves in them and even now, I still do. 

1 comment:

  1. I really liked Belzhar! Wolitzer perfectly captured the truth of teens dealing with difficult emotions in their life, and I enjoyed seeing how everything played out. Plus, it was a major bonus to come up with a fun question - and one where we had the same answer but for different reasons!

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