Monday, August 31, 2015

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Jam has been sent to The Wooden Barn, a school for "emotionally fragile, highly intelligent" teenagers, because of "lingering effects of trauma".  That trauma being Reeve, her sweet British boyfriend, who came to New Jersey as an exchange student and stole her heart.  Life without Reeve has been a nightmare for Jam.  He consumes her every thought, and all she wants is one more day being held by him.

Fortunately for her, Special Topics in English (a small hand-picked class of 5 people) is giving her a way back there.  When she writes in her journal, she can go to a place where everything is like it used to be before her loss.  But the more she visits Belzhar (as they call it), the more she starts to realize that there are truths to her life with Reeve that need confronted.  And time in Belzhar is limited... what happens when they can't go back there anymore?

I read this book for book club this month, but really I've been wanting to read it since it came out.  I love books about pain and loss and feeling.  I love books where a character has to learn how to deal with a painful experience because it makes me feel all those feelings too.  I was expecting something really deep here, but I didn't actually get what I was looking for.

It started out really well, and I read it really fast because the storyline is addicting.  It begins with Jam moving into The Wooden Barn, which is a boarding school for kids dealing with issues.  She gets put in a Special Topics English class with 4 other teens, and they all wonder, why them??  Their teacher gives them one author to read for the entire semester, and this time it's going to be Sylvia Plath.  They're also told they will write in a journal twice a week.  Most of them roll their eyes about having to write in a journal, but soon learn that these journals are way more than what they seem.  They allow them to go back to a time in their lives when their issue hasn't happened.  Casey, a classmate who was recently paralyzed, gets to go to a place where she can run.  It makes them feel free from their pain, if only for a little while.

The thing that intrigued me about this book was I really wanted to know about these other 4 people in Jam's class.  I wanted to know why they were all picked and where their Belzhar (a word they made up as a take on "Bell Jar") took them.  I loved the magical element of the journals.  The magical realism gave the book so much potential, that I just think it had a hard time living up to it.  By halfway through the book, I had concluded that I didn't much like Jam.  She was too into herself.  Everything she felt seemed more important than what anyone else was feeling.  She claimed to be friends with people, but never really seemed to ever go past saying "we're really good friends" and actually doing the things that really good friends do.  When something happens to Sierra, Jam cries and cries to the houseparent about how it's going to affect her.  Well what about the girl it's happening to??  Worry about her!  It's not about YOU!

A lot of things in this book felt rushed.  During Jam's second visit to Reeve, she already starts questioning things.  If she laid in bed for a better part of a YEAR devastated about a death, I think it would take more than 1 visit before she would see anything but pure happiness.  She has a lot more visits after that, and by the end it was hard to believe that she was holding on so tight when the questioning started so early.  Another frustrating aspect was that it comes out that the relationship was very short, and while I'm not trying to tell anyone what they are entitled to feel, it was hard for me to take it seriously.  Especially after everything comes out.  I know young love can be intense, but 20-something days, does not an epic love story make... to me anyhow.

The rest of the book is hard to talk about without spoilers, but I want to say that I did NOT care for the ending at all.  At all, at all.  HEA's and couples were thrown out all over the place that didn't feel honest to the book.  It also made me feel very angry towards one of the characters.

OVERALL: It's readable and entertaining, but it seemed like the author was a split personality when she wrote it.  The second half doesn't match the first half for me.  And the ending!!!  Just no.

This Book Contains:

  • Boarding school (for troubled youth)
  • Sylvia Plath discussion and passages of her writings
  • Mental illness
  • Physical disability
  • Journals
  • Journal entries
  • GLBT relationship
  • Letters
  • Family issues
  • Friendship

Add it to your To-Read List!!

My Rating: 2/4

Date Published: 9/30/2014
How I got this book: Library
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (Penguin)

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  1. That's interesting that one half of the book felt different than the other, I've run into that with books in a series and it is really frustrating. Plus insta-love? Boo. I feel like the magical realism aspect can either work really well or turn out really badly. I think I will skip out on this one, but great review!

    1. The magical realism was a great aspect, but I guess it was just that the M/C didn't do it for me. She wasn't up to par with the rest of the characters in the book.

  2. That's such a shame because I really have been wanting to read this one but it just sounds like a waste of time to even bother. Especially with the not good ending. A bad ending can ruin an entire read for me. So I'll be avoiding this one. Thanks!

    1. It's an easy read. And has a pretty shocking ending. I wouldn't say don't read it, just be aware that you might have some STRONG reactions to things.