“Belzhar lets you be with the person you’ve lost, or in Casey’s case with the thing she’s lost, but it keeps you where you were before the loss. So if you desperately want what you once had, you can write in your red leather journal and go to Belzhar to find it. ”
What is this book about?
Jam is a teenage girl with a big emotional issue. Her boyfriend, the English exchange student Reeve, died after a blissful 41 days they got to spend together. Unable to cope with the loss, Jam is sent to The Wooden Barn, a school for emotionally fragile children dealing with trauma. At this school filled with sad mopey kids, Jam is picked for a very prestigious class called Special Topics in English with four others. Here they are forced to read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, discuss it and write in a journal. And it is this last thing that changes all of their lives.
Why is it boring?
For a book filled with emotionally fraught children, there was remarkable little drama. The teens have some breakdowns, but nothing major and even the magical world of Belzhar gets accepted in one single page by everyone involved. The story telling falls a bit flat because of the lack of emotional highs and lows in a place that should be filled with anxious, traumatized hormone bombs.
Who would you recommend it to?
This book might be good for girls dealing with heartbreak. The ones that will faint on demand and exclaim loudly how their heart is irreparably broken and write really bad poetry about it.
Why should I read it if it’s boring?!
This book was up for our second YA book club and to be honest, I’m glad it didn’t get picked. There probably had been enough to discuss about the train wreck of a plot twist, but it would have been hard to disguise my epic disappointment. The Interestings by Wolitzer was a book filled with amazing, thoughtful kids who grow up into somewhat neurotic adults, so I know Wolitzer is capable of writing about kids and be in tune with a teenager’s thoughts and feelings. But with Belzhar it feels like she is writing specifically for a younger audience, deemed less intelligent and unable to comprehend complicated characters. Whenever Jam feels a certain way, or being in Belzhar has certain implications to the story, Wolitzer really hammers on about it so that there is no way in hell you will miss this very ‘deep’ emotional layer to the story. There is no room for your own interpretation and no room for ambiguity whatsoever. The story keeps the circumstances of Reeve’s death purposely vague until the end, making it into a big reveal near the end of the book. And the reveal itself… I still cringe when I think about it. It completely ruins the already on thin ice character of Jam, turning her into a petty lovesick girl with serious mental problems. I have no idea why Wolitzer chose to put a twist in this book, but for me that completely ruined a somewhat decent read. Maybe I had too high expectations for this novel, but I am deeply, deeply disappointed.