Publisher: Simon and Schuster Australia
Release Date: October 1, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Magical Realism, YA
Source: Received in exchange for review
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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.
From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.
Belzhar is a very difficult book for me to review. I’ve been sitting here in front of my laptop for more than half an hour just fuming and raging inside because of this book. Because I cannot talk about the cons just yet, let me just tell you guys what this book is about.
This book is about Jam. Jam’s full name is Jamaica; and yep, her parents named her after the place where she was conceived. As amusing as that is, Belzhar is not an amusing book. It is a dark and profound, for one of the first things we find out about our main character is that she was in love with Reeve Maxfield, and he died. Jam soon becomes inconsolable and her parents end up sending her to The Wooden Barn which is a school for teens who are “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent”. At The Wooden Barn, Jam finds out that she’s been chosen to be part of Mrs. Quenell’s Special Topics in English class. This is an extremely selective and arguably elite course where only a handful of students (around 5) are selected to partake each year. Jam’s roommate, DJ, tells her that all the students who took Mrs. Quenell’s course in the previous years came out claiming that their lives had been changed forever, but no one outside the class really knows how and those who were in the class never seemed to divulge much. So on the first day of her class, Jam is skeptical. Soon, she and the other students in her small class are handed a red leather notebook, and what they don’t know is how much that notebook will change their lives.
Let’s talk about the prose because it was one of the things I loved most here. Meg Wolitzer’s writing skills are clearly not lacking. While I didn’t have the best experience with this novel of her’s, I am definitely going to check out her previous books. Her writing, though rather simplistic, was coated in honesty and bleakness and some of these moments in this novel hit really close to home for me.
And I also know that pain can seem like an endless ribbon. You pull it and you pull it. You keep gathering it toward you, and as it collects, you really can’t believe that there’s something else at the end of it. Something that isn’t just more pain.
One of my two issues I had this book was the superficiality of the characters and their relationships. I didn’t manage to gain any emotional bond with any of the characters. Sure, I felt incredibly sorry for them and I was thoroughly intrigued by their pasts and what led them to end up at The Wooden Barn, but if they died randomly, I wouldn’t have blinked any eye. What was more of a problem, for me, were the relationships–romantic and platonic. I totally didn’t get why Jam and Griffin ended up smooching during this book. I mean, it was completely unnecessary and only took up pages when it shouldn’t have. Jam was trying to deal with the repercussions of her boyfriend’s death, for god’s sake. This is just another classic example in YA books where someone meets someone else to help them move on. As for Jam and Sierra’s friendship, it felt incredibly abrupt. One minute Sierra is completely closed off; the next minute they’re BFFs. Please, just no.
If I hadn’t read the ending of this novel, I would give this book around 3.5 stars. While I had issues with the characters and relationships, I loved the writing and the plot line (especially the Belzhar otherworld aspect). Unfortunately, the ending to Belzhar exists and I read it. And now, I fully regret it. I’m hiding this following part in spoiler tags to discuss why I hated the ending so much. View Spoiler »I have two things to say about this ending: 1) I am so so angry with the ending. I feel cheated and manipulated into trying to feeling sorry for a girl who got obsessed with a guy who was so obviously not into her. And 2) It’s rather evident that Jam is delusional. No, I don’t mean it in the joking way, I’m saying that Jam had a Delusional Disorder. Yes, that is a thing (I actually didn’t know myself about this until I searched it up on the web) and it’s a mental illness with many different subcategories. I am really annoyed that the author didn’t bother to fully address Jam’s circumstances. Her delusion NEEDED to be taken note of because it’s something that happens to real people as well and brushing it off like that has kept me quite pissed off for the past few hours. If you’re going to deal with mental illness in a book, do it the right way. « Hide Spoiler
“From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.” This is what the blurb says, and let me tell you now; this is not a story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance. This is anything but those three things; this was an incredibly shallow story for one that first felt profound, and it really is a shame for me to say. I will say that this book was surprising, like the blurb notes, though. I did not see that ending coming, but that doesn’t mean I liked it any more for that reason.
~Thank you Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me this copy!~
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