Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK.
Paperback, 266 pages.
Release date: October 9th 2014.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for 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.
From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.
Reeve Maxfield was in Jam Gallahue’s life for a total of forty one days. Forty one days – not a whole lot of time in the grand scheme of life, but enough time to make an impact, enough time for Jam’s crush on Reeve to come full circle, and become something more - something that was everything. Forty one days – not long, but long enough for Jam to know that what she and Reeve shared was something special; a super-connection where they never ran out of conversation and kisses and always laughed at each other’s jokes. Jam’s time with Reeve was never enough, but it was long enough for Jam to know that she was in love, completely head over heels in love with this British exchange student, he of the quirky humour and Manchester United tops and endless Briticisms. And just like Jam loved Reeve, Reeve loved Jam too. So now, almost a year after Reeve’s death, Jam isn’t coping.
Nobody understands Jam’s pain and nobody knows what to do. Jam – she just wants to spend the rest of her life in a duvet dream. Her friends don’t get it – they think it’s time to move on. The mourning period, it seems, is over for everybody but Jam. But then nobody loved Reeve like Jam did.
Beautifully written and compelling throughout, Belzhar is the highly anticipated YA debut from best-selling author Meg Wolitzer (The Interestings). A story of all-consuming first love, grief and heartbreak, Belzhar ponders the magic of friendship and the therapeutic power of words. When her parents, at a loss as to what to with their daughter, enrol Jam in The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teenagers in middle-of-nowhere Vermont, Jam is not impressed. She’s not impressed by her roommate either – a girl called DJ who hides food in every nook and cranny of their room. Soon after arriving at The Wooden Barn, Jam is assigned to a class called “Special Topics in English” taught by the enigmatic Mrs. Q. It seems like everybody at The Wooden Barn wants to be in this class, but for reasons known only to herself, Mrs. Q only ever bestows the honour upon a chosen few. This year, it’s Jam, along with Casey, Sierra, Marc and Griffin who will read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and find a way back to who they used to be with the help of some mysterious old journals.
Belzhar is unique in that I certainly haven’t read anything like it before. If I was to compare it to any recent book then that would be We Were Liars; not for the plot, but for the anticipation and the hype, for the writing and for, um…certain other things. We Were Liars didn’t completely work for me, and neither did Belzhar, but I reckon if you loved E.Lockhart’s book earlier this year, then you’ll want to get your hands on this one ASAP. I’m not going to talk about the plot too much – all I will say is that Belzhar isn’t exactly what it seems in that it’s not straightforward contemporary realism; let’s just say there’s a little magic at play in those journals. Maybe. Or maybe not. Also, I admit that I rolled my eyes towards the ending of this book more than once. The ending felt like such a let down to me. Belzhar is a pleasure to read for the most part, but then the ending just kind of fell flat. The ‘reveal’, for me, was ‘meh’. I didn’t connect with Jam either, or have a whole lot of sympathy for her when all was said and done. You might think me heartless now, but you (probably) won’t when you find out more.
Belzhar is deceptive and it’s clever - deceptively clever. Maybe even too clever at times. Belzhar never reveals a whole lot, and if you’re looking for all the answers, then this is not the book for you. Belzhar will make you think, it’ll make you wonder and ask all kinds of questions. It’s an accomplished tale, but it suffers for its ending, which left me feeling cheesed off and slightly cheated too. I put down this book and all I could think was “seriously?! That’s it?!”
That said, at no point did I actually figure out what was at play here (and I guessed the truth of We Were Liars pretty early on!)
In short: Belzhar is a beautifully written book, but its twist leaves a lot to be desired.