Belzhar – book review

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Belzhar is a magical and breathtaking book, written by Meg Wolitzer.

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be at home in New Jersey with her sweet British boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. They’d spend their days kissing between the library stacks and their evenings watching old comedies. But life isn’t fair, because Reeve is dead.

So instead, Jam is at The Wooden Barn – a therapeutic boarding school for ‘fragile’ teenagers. She has a weird roommate and is signed up for an even weirder, mysterious and exclusive class called Special Topics English. There are four other students in Jam’s class, all of whom are very different, but they each have an emotional trauma that made their lives veer off course.

The students in Special Topics English are given a red journal and are instructed to write in it twice a week and return it at the end of the semester. Only when Jam writes in hers, she finds that her words lead her back to Reeve – literally. She can visit him in a place called Belzhar and relive their old memories. She can feel his arms around her once again. Finally, Jam feels happy and safe. But each visit is only for a short period of time, and it uses five pages of the journal – Jam’s running out of space. What happens when Jam reaches the end of the journal? Does their teacher know about the power of the journals? When Jam discovers the four other in her class are experiencing the same things as her, they form a bond and try to manage the situation the best they can, but there’s the possibility this happiness can only last the semester. What happens after that? Will they all be forced to relive the pain and anguish of what sent them to The Wooden Barn in the first place?

*

I absolutely loved reading Belzhar. This book took me hardly any time to read at all. You know when you just love a book so much that you speed through it, even when you’d rather read slower just to savor it? This was definitely one of those books for me. I was enthralled in the storyline from the very beginning and I was curious to find out what was going to happen.

The characters were all beautifully created and they all had distinct personalities. It was so easy to connect with everyone in the novel and I found everyone’s stories interesting to learn more about. I feel as though this book had the perfect balance of magical existence and real life problems. The way this book was written made everything flow really smoothly and the jumps between scenes didn’t seem at all choppy. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the magical aspect of this book was done. I was afraid the whole writing-in-your-journal-and-get-transported thing would come off as cheesy or fake. I was so happy to see how well that was done and it felt like it was not unquestionably impossible.

Getting to know the characters was definitely one of my favourite aspects of this book. Jam was a little hard to connect with in the beginning. She was constantly moaning about how hard her life was now and how she’d never be happy again. I understand that it’s hard losing someone, but not everyone needs to get shipped off to a place to be around ‘fragile’ people like themselves to help them all recover from their individual traumas. I felt like everyone loses people in their lives whether they like to or not, and the fact that she was this upset about losing someone she knew for 41 days annoyed me just a little. But as the book progressed, I understood her a little better and like spending time with her.

I also felt like I really got to know the other four people in Jam’s Special Topics English class. There was Sierra, the girl who quickly became Jam’s best friend, there was Casey, the girl in the wheelchair, Marc, the goody two-shoes, and Griffin, the boy with the bad attitude. I enjoyed finding out why each of these people where in this school and learning about their lives before coming to The Wooden Barn. I really got to know these people and found out that there was a lot more to them than the originally one-defining characteristic. Each of these people had unique and intriguing stories and I felt like I connected with all of them. I loved their individual voices and I was emotionally attached to all of the characters.

Another character I loved spending time with was DJ, Jam’s roommate. I felt as though her personality was really well developed and I knew how she’d react to certain things and what responses she’d come back with. I love it when the main character in a book has a friend like DJ was to Jam. Their friendship reminded me of the friendship between Nora and Vee in Hush Hush. The characters are obviously completely different, but both of these friendships felt strong and were fun to get involved in.

I absolutely loved spending time in Special Topics English with Mrs Q and The Bell Jar. I enjoyed discovering things about the book The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and I found the conversations the students in this class had about this book were really interesting. As these scenes progressed, we all realised that we were no longer talking about The Bell Jar, but we were talking about ourselves. And when I say ‘we’, I really mean the characters. I just felt so involved that I felt like I got to know Sylvia Plath and the book along with Jam and the other students.

Even though I didn’t actually properly meet Reeve, I felt like I really got to know him throughout the course of the book. The mystery behind what happened to him and Jam was well hidden for the entire book, and I was surprised to see how I worked out in the end. I can’t believe the twist at the end of this book. I loved how everything I thought I knew about Jam’s life was pretty much turned on its head. I was very happy with the ending of this book. This book had me laughing and crying, and it really I really connected to it on an emotional level. Overall, this is a book about first loves, first heartbreaks, deep sorrow and the power of acceptance. I’d give Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer a score of 9 out of 10. I definitely recommend this book for everyone looking for a powerful story with a magical twist!

A huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!

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