September 11, 2014

Belzhar - Meg Wolitzer

Belzhar book cover
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Source/Format: Publisher/BEA 2014 (Thank you!) || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my review.]

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.

Belzhar is one of the most interesting contemporary novels I've read this year. It's basically the story of how main character Jam Gallahue deals with the grief of her loss in an environment specially catered towards handling situations like hers (which reminded me a little of this book). At first, I worried that the novel might slip into cliche since the potential was there. Thankfully, in Wolitzer's expert hands, Belzhar was written creatively and cleverly.

It's always interesting to witness how one deals with grief. Wolitzer captures the feelings of sadness and loss well in Jam's story, and the individual stories of her classmates - Mark, Casey, Sierra and Griffin. Each person mentioned was dealing something difficult, the memory imprisoning them in cycles of grief, rage, and guilt. I felt sympathy for what each of them was going through, but most particularly for Sierra and Casey (whose stories you will have to discover for yourself).

It's the class they share - Special Topics in English - that really churns things up in their lives. They were handpicked by their teacher, and they tackle reading Sylvia Plath's works (including The Bell Jar) and writing in the journals they were given. It's interesting to see how Plath's life and work becomes a source of fascination for the students, but also eerily parallels their own feelings in some ways. I'm seriously in love with this particular aspect of the book, as I've always believed that with the right teachers, the course of your life can be altered irrevocably.

Honestly, I don't want to say much more about Belzhar, because it's one of those novels I personally feel is best experienced without knowing more than the basics. But the way Wolitzer tackles Jam's story is impressive, and I'm definitely interested in checking out her other novels after reading this one. In sum, you basically should read Belzhar when it's finally out!

What classic novel have you read that perfectly captures something you've experienced in real life?

Honestly, Anne of Green Gables is the first "classic" that came to mind. It's mostly because Anne's sense of displacement as she arrives in Matthew and Marilla's lives - unexpected and not necessarily wanted right away - echoed so much of how I felt when my family relocated from the US to the Philippines. Plus, Anne's imagination and all the adventures and trouble she gets into because of it? I've been there and done that too. 


  1. Jamie talked about this book today on her blog too and both of you have me doubly excited for it now! I picked it up at BEA but haven't honestly been too excited about it. But now I can't wait to read it! I love how much books/written words and teachers can completely alter the course of your life. This one sounds like a powerful read.

  2. I've seen a bit about this recently, and the fact that it's so relevant to what people are doing today is what strikes me. There's not a whole lot out there that's THIS tied in to what's happening in the real world. I'm glad to see there were lots of positives, and I may have to find a copy soon!

    Cassie @ Happy Book Lovers

  3. Goodness gracious, this sounds like an emotionally rich book with some great characters. DO WANT.

    A classic book that resonated with me will forever and always be Pride & Prejudice with how deftly Austen handles the flirtations and miscommunications and frustrations in love. Always!

  4. I'm so glad you enjoyed this! I really liked the characters in this book a lot! I actually think I connected more with the secondary characters! I saw a lot of myself in Jam but I also felt like I wished I had connected with her more. It was definitely an interesting concept! Not sure it TOTALLY worked out for me but I still really enjoyed the book!


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