Thursday, February 12, 2015

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

I read this in a day. It was easy to put down while other things were happening (conversations, driving, sleeping) and then pick it right back up again as if no time had been lost. It's a fast read, interesting, and definitely a page turner. It's a book I definitely thought about while I wasn't reading it.

It's about a girl (Jam, short for Jamaica) who loses the love of her life---although she only knew him for a mere 41 days, the feelings were so strong she is completely and utterly devastated by the loss. Like, well beyond normal processing. After so much time (nearly a year) has passed and her parents and teachers and friends simply do not know what to do with her, she is sent off to a school for special people (The Wooden Barn) --- for students who are intelligent but fragile.

Jam is placed into a class, Special Topics in English, which is apparently one of the most difficult classes to be placed in, and she has not even requested such placement. Jam's roommate is supremely jealous, having attempted to take the class herself, but Jam is, frankly, uninterested in all of it. She goes because she must. There are five students in the class. Their teacher, Mrs. Q, assigns one author for the semester and requires her class to write in journals that she provides. The author is Sylvia Plath.

As the class progresses, it becomes clear that the students in the class have emotions, responses, feelings, psychologies, or something else in common with Ms. Plath, and they slowly begin to open up with each other and Mrs. Q. Of course, other very strange things are happening to the students. I will quote the publisher blurb so as not to give anything away that has not already been given: Jam and her classmates are led "into a mysterious other world she and her classmates call Belzhar[. There], she discovers a realm where the untainted past is restored, and she can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But, as the pages of her journal begin to fill up, Jam must to confront hidden truths and ultimately decide what she’s willing to sacrifice to reclaim her loss."

It's a book that falls squarely into the magical realism category, which adds just the right amount of uncertainty, mystery, and mysticism to a story that is otherwise a teen drama about friendship, love, loss, and discovery. Although I do not typically love teen romance books, I really enjoyed Wolitzer's book that is more about the loss of love and recovery than anything else. It has its flaws .. some of the trauma that others have gone through seem much more severe than Jam's, yet she continues to mope in self-obsession and self-pity -- but I also felt that was actually pretty realistic for the teenage perspective. It is rather self-obsessed and has a hard time looking outside to gain perspective. And there are some "conveniences" that are a bit eye-roll'y, but overall, as I said, I just enjoyed it. It helps that I read it so quickly, I'm sure.

THREE AND A HALF of 5 stars.

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