Friday, April 3, 2015

Librarian Book Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer


Jam was head over heels in love with her British exchange student boyfriend Reeve. That is until he died, leaving her in so much pain she couldn’t cope with the rest of the world. Not knowing what else to do, her parents send her away to the Wooden Barn, a boarding school for teens who have difficulties or are dealing with trauma. At the Wooden Barn, Jam finds herself assigned to a most unusual English class, Special Topics in English. In the class they will spend the entire semester studying the writings of Sylvia Plath, and writing in a red leather journal. When she starts writing in her journal, Jam finds herself transported to Belzhar, a magical place where Reeve is alive again and they can be together. Unfortunately, each trip uses up pages in the journal and Jam’s trips are limited. Reliving the times with Reeve also bring Jam closer to facing the truth.


Wow. Where do I start?

This book made it to the top of my reading list because I really didn’t have a choice. It was chosen by my book group as an interesting new title. I don’t think I would have read it otherwise. Let me say, it was a great pick. There is so much to discuss about this book I really can’t wait until our next meeting.

Jam is a sympathetic character. She is in pain and suffering from the loss of her boyfriend. Then she is forced to go to this boarding school where she doesn’t want to go.  It is only in the Special Topics in English class where she begins to open up and connect with other students.

The pacing of the novel is good, and while the other characters begin to open up about their stories, Jam keeps hers hidden and keep you wondering about what really happened. 

Belzhar is a unique construct in this novel, and learning the rules is the fun part. I loved how Wolitzer described this magical place. Each student in Special Topics has their own version of Belzhar where they can experience their life before the trauma that sent the to the Wooden Barn happened.

Audiobook Review:

The audio version of this novel is roughly 8 hours. It is read by Jorjeana Marie and produced by Random House/Listening Library. The production is really well done and free of flaws. Jorjeana Marie does a fabulous job with the narration and making Jam a believable character.  If you like audiobooks this would be a good way to experience this novel.

When I first started reading this novel I wasn’t sure what to expect. It is one of those genre bending books that is difficult to classify. So much of the story is realistic fiction, but the story couldn’t happen without the fantasy elements of Belzhar. In the end this novel was an engrossing read. You want to know what really happened to Reeve and why Jam won’t talk about it. Once you get into the novel, you won’t want to put it down.

Cautions for Sensitive Readers:

Violence: Mild
Sex: Mild
Language: Mild
Drugs/Alcohol: None

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