“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.” ~Goodreads
Belzhar (September 30, 2014) was one of the books I was determined to leave New York with from BEA this year. Especially since I was denied an advanced copy through other outlets. But Wolitzer is one of my absolute favorite authors and this is her first attempt at Young Adult. So…I kind of stalked the Penguin booths and luckily scored a copy.
I have never read anything by Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar is on my “must reads” list so I was wondering if I would be at a disadvantage. Not at all! And before I start quoting away and talking more about the book, let me first say that Meg Wolitzer succeeds in capturing the young adult voice in this character driven novel.
From the synopsis it is clear that Jam gets sent to a school for “fragile” youth who are all coping with something tragic from their lives. Most of the scenes are emotionally intense, filled with angst and sadness but the reader knows that going in. No surprises there. But there are surprises throughout that I wasn’t expecting. And it’s all because of Wolitzer’s gift of writing. The way Wolitzer lets Jam’s story unfold without judgment and in a delicate manner, left me breathless. She is respectful of the teen voice and inexperience without being too heavy handed with “the moral of the story…” type phrases. The boarding school setting is ideal, surrounding teens with an environment that is both stimulating and nurturing. I wish I had a “Special Topics English Class” back in the day just to connect with like minded teens guided by a teacher like Mrs. Q.
Will I think of this book years from now? Probably not. But while I was reading it, it struck an emotional chord. A serious one. Without revealing my own similar own woes, I completely bought Jam’s “situation” (no, spoilers) and the magical realism did not feel over-the-top at all. But if you haven’t had those experiences, it won’t matter because Wolitzer’s writing will take you there. I think Jam gets that too with Plath’s work:
“Even when I can’t relate on a personal level, she makes me know what she feels, and that’s really something. To find out what another human being feels, a person who isn’t you; to get a look under the hood, so to speak. A deep look inside. That’s what writing is supposed to do.”