Belzhar

by Meg Wolitzer
First sentence: “I was sent here because of a boy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 30, 2014
Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss
Content: There’s some talk of teen drinking and pot smoking, and some swearing (including a few f-bombs; I didn’t count). But, because of the nature of the book — it’s just has a very “adult” feel to it, it will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore. I don’t think, however, it’s beyond the reach of an interested 7th- or 8th grader, though.

Jam — short for Jamaica — is falling to pieces. Her boyfriend, Reese, died, and so she has no real reason for living. After trying everything — pleading, therapy — her parents decide to send her away to a special boarding school for those with issues called The Wooden Barn. Jam is expecting to behave much the same way at this school as she has before: detached, uninvolved, not caring. But then she’s signed up for Special Topics in English and everything changes.

Special Topics is a teacher-selected class of only five students. They only study one author, and this semester it’s Sylvia Plath. They’re required to come to class, to discuss the works, and to write in their journals. But what Jam and the other students don’t realize is this: their lives are about to change.

At first, I loved this book. I like the idea of studying one author in depth, and even though I don’t know much about Sylvia Plath (I really ought to read her stuff), I was enjoying Wolitzer’s writing about it. I didn’t even mind the slight magical aspect of it: whenever the students write in their journals, they enter an alternate reality, a place where the worst thing hasn’t happened. I thought it was a little weird, particularly since I was expecting a realistic fiction book, but it worked for me.

However, the book fell apart for me at the end. Especially with the twist. (I’m not going to tell you what that is.) I do think, though, that it’ll hit the spot with it’s intended audience; I think a lot of my reluctance to go along with it is just age and experience showing.

And the writing is gorgeous. Wolitzer really does know how to turn a phrase. And much like Katherine Howe, I found myself thinking that I really ought to read some of Wolitzer’s adult stuff.

Not bad, in the end.

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