Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: Belzhar

Author: Meg Wolitzer
Published: September 30th, 2014
Hardcover, 264 pages
4 Gold Stars

(summary 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 cal feel Reeve's arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam's path to reclaim her loss. 

This book immediately caught my attention. From afar it looks like a contemporary novel, but there is a paranormal element that is the unlaying basis of it and it intrigued me. Jam Gallahue is trying to get over the death of her boyfriend, Reeve, but it hasn't been going well so her parents send her to The Wooden Barn, a rehab centre for teenagers recovering. She is roomed with a strange girl and enrolled in Special Topics in English, a prestigious class with only five students in it. Her roommate is jealous, saying that everyone who has been in that class couldn't stop talking about it. Jam's not sure what the hype is all about, especially since the teacher is strange and they are just reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. But soon everything changes. They are given a journal writing assignment and the moment she starts writing in the journal, she feels Reeve's arms around her and suddenly she gets to be with him again, but only for a short while until she is brought back to reality. Jam loves this new world, but what happens when the journal is full?

Everything that happens in this book is just as mysterious and unexplained as the world Jam and her classmates go to, which they dub Belzhar after the Plath book they're reading. Nothing is really explained and we only know what Jam knows and what her friends tell her. It's kind of wonderful and kept me drawn into the novel as I watched her spend moments with Reeve that I knew couldn't last. When she's not with Reeve, she is spending time with Griffin, a guy she's not quite sure about but is drawn to nonetheless. Every character in this was very different and dealing with their own emotional drama. Throughout the novel, we discover why everyone is at the school and what they see when they go to Belzhar. The stories are sad, brutal and all around something you wish on no one. I was curious to see how this would end and did not expect what happened at all. It was a great twist and really pulled the story together. And I didn't really need Belzhar explained to me, I love that it was a mystery and a very strange way to get over the guilt and shame and move on with life.

Grief was a main element in this book, so I won't lie and say it will make you happy. It was dark, brutal and terrible things happened to good people. But it shows that it is not the end when something bad happens, life goes on. Friendships are made, romance is found, and people are forgiven and forgive themselves. It was a wonderful story that captured me from the first page to very end. I wish it had been longer. I wish we got to know more about Mrs. Quenell and her teachings. They kept mentioning how awesome her class was, but we never really got to witness her discussions and what was so awesome about her. I wish there was more background story so that I could have been more emotional invested in the characters. Everything happened very quickly, and I think I understand why the writer wrote it like this, to keep us in a dream-like state that Jam was in the entire time she was at the Barn. All in all, I enjoyed it and would like read the author's other works.

"We're talking about the novel, right? But maybe we're not. We're talking about ourselves. And I guess that's what can start to happen when you talk about a book."

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