Wednesday, December 30, 2015

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #10: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

I can't remember how this book got on my wish list.  I haven't read anything else by Meg Wolitzer.  I generally stay with young adult books and she is more known for her adult books than this YA one.

Belzhar audiobook cover
In any case, I put Belzhar on my list at some point and it became available recently.  I had no idea what to expect, but was quickly drawn into a world of troubled teens.   The story is told from perspective of a high school student named Jam.  After the loss of her boyfriend, she has trouble coping and is sent to a boarding school in rural Vermont called The Wooden Barn.  Here she is placed in a class called "Special Topics in English", with a handful of kids, who are each dealing with their own post-traumatic issues.

Nobody knows what the class is or how people get into it.  They only study the life and work of one author for the year and this year it is Sylvia Plath.  I haven't read any Plath myself to comment on the interpretations of her work and the influence on the students.  But with her history of mental health issues, it seemed plausible that the students could relate to her.

As the students reluctantly start their homework, they being to discover something special about the journals they have been given to write in and the class itself.  Could the journals really be magical?  Or is there something even more wrong with themselves than they thought?


The classmates come together to figure things out and slowly reveal their personal stories to each other.  This is a book about people finding their way through grief to come back to some kind of normalcy in their lives.  They are helped both by the camaraderie of their small group, and the process that the journals take them through that allows them to see things from a different perspective.

Disappointingly, I thought Jam's story was the weakest.  I was much more interested in the other characters as they revealed their stories.  Meg did a good job at pacing the reveals to keep me wanting to know more.   If I were a teenager again, I think I could be friends with any of these kids.

The twist at the end left me a bit unsatisfied.  Not for the reasons, I think most will expect, but because it seemed like Meg was building a pattern and then broke it.  I didn't agree with some of the plot decisions, but overall I liked it and I think that people going through grief, loss or depression issues might relate to it.   I can't really guess as to how much they would find it helpful though.

I hope that people won't be distracted by the little bit of magic, in an otherwise realistic fiction book.  This book shows that there aren't quick fixes for people, but with time and effort, things can improve.  There is life after trauma and loss.   I don't think people need magic for that, but they probably need some constructive help through counselling and supportive friends and family.  It would be nice if everyone who needed it could go to a school like this.

No complaints about the audiobook.  Jorjeana Marie's reading fit the story very well.

3.5 stars

Title: Belzhar
Author: Meg Wolitzer

Audible Audio Edition
Duration: 8 hours and 6 minutes
Narrator: Jorjeana Marie
Publisher: Listening Library (Sept 30, 2014)
ASIN: B00NEVMG9A

Other Formats: paperback/hardcover/Kindle ebook
Print length:  272 pages
Publisher:  Dutton Books for Young Readers (September 30, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0525423052
ISBN-13: 978-0525423058
Kindle ASIN: B00INIQQE0
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Rating system:
1 star (didn't like); 2 stars (OK); 3 stars (good); 4 stars (very good); 5 stars (favourite)

Also check out Cannonball Read for a variety of book reviews from many others.

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