Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Source: ARC provided by publisher
Goodreads link: (click here)
What's it about?
Jam Gallahue is the newest resident of The Wooden Barn, an exclusive boarding school in Vermont, exclusively for fragile youth facing different issues. The place is supposed to be a therapeutic alternative to a hospital setting. At The Wooden Barn, instead of medication, they encourage healing through the school experience and togetherness. Everyone is there because of some sort of lingering trauma and they are encouraged to look after and help each other. But why is Jam Gallahue there? Well, it's because of a boy.
Reeve Maxwell was a sweet British exchange student and he and Jam shared a short but intense romance. There is nowhere Jam would rather be but in his arms, kissing amongst the stacks of books in the library, listening to his adorable accent or watching his favorite Monty Python sketch. But she can't, because Reeve is dead. Nearly a year later, she still can't move on with her life. Her parents decide that the best thing to do is to send her off to The Wooden Barn to try to work through her grief.
At The Wooden Barn, Jam has a strange girl with "food issues" for a roommate and she's been selected to take an exclusive and legendary class, Special Topics in English. According to previous students, it is life-changing, but Jam doesn't want to change her life, she just wants her old one back, the one where Reeve is still there and they can be together. Well, she's about to get her wish.
Special Topics in English is only one semester long and there are only five students in the class. The entire semester, they study the works of only one writer, Sylvia Plath, which seems odd since the students at The Wooden Barn are supposed to be so fragile. Their teacher, Mrs. Quenell, also requires them to write in a red leather journal twice a week. She promises not to read them, but insists that they be completely filled out and turned in at the end of the semester. When Jam and the other students begin to write in their journals, something magical and impossible happens. They are transported to an alternate realm that they call "Belzhar", where the past is restored and whoever or whatever they have lost is back. For Jam, that means being able to see Reeve again, to kiss him, hold him and hear his voice. As the pages of their journals fill up, Jam and the rest of her newfound friends from Special Topics must figure out what happens when they get to the end. Would they really want to sacrifice their futures to be able to live in the past? As Jam spends more time with her new friends, she begins to grow as a person and she even explores the possibility of opening her heart to a new love. As wonderful as Belzhar is, it's not the real world, but Jam has to find a way to say goodbye to Reeve forever or become stuck in the past. The world is waiting as long as she's willing to move forward.
What I thought.
Belzhar is an absolute dream of a book. I honestly felt as if I was transported into another realm while I was reading it. It is a beautiful, emotional and magical journey into the human mind. I absolutely loved the concept, it was so unique and Meg Wolitzer's writing is absolutely gorgeous. She is quite a wonderful storyteller. What I really liked about the book is that not only do you get to explore in depth how Jam deals with her loss, but you also get to see how the other characters handle their own problems. You're able to hear their stories and see how the friendships they develop bond them together in order to heal. I loved getting to know them and I felt their sadness. I was brought to tears a few times. I admit that at first I wasn't sure about reading this because I thought it sounded pretty depressing, but I'm so glad I did. Yes, it has sad moments, but it is hopeful, too. It's also about friendship, love, self-discovery and forgiveness. Belzhar is Meg Wolitzer's first YA novel, but she has written many non-YA books. I will be checking them all out because I want to read more of her beautiful words. She's defintely got a new fan.