October 15, 2014 by Bernadette ~ The Bumbling Bookworm
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster, 1 October 2014
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fantasy
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
Rating: 3 stars!
Other books from author: The Ten Year Nap, The Uncoupling, The Interestings, and many more!
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
“I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no one knew what to do with me.”
A group of emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers are mysteriously picked for Special Topics English, tasked with studying Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and keeping a journal.
Each time the teens write in it they are transported to a miraculous other world called Belzhar – a world where they are no longer haunted by their trauma and grief – and each begins to tell their own story.
From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer, and published by John Green’s editor, Belzhar is a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.
What I Thought…
I should preface what I’m about to say with a bit of a disclaimer: I’ve never read The Bell Jar. As a book that features in Belzhar in more ways than one, I think my experience reading Belzhar would’ve been different had I previously read The Bell Jar. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I have a feeling a lot of the allegory aspects involving The Bell Jar went RIGHT over my head.
Ah Belzhar… What can I say, this was a different book for me – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. I had some difficulties reading this, and a lot of that stemmed from my inability to connect with Jam. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to like her, no matter how hard I tried! She would say or do things and I’d be all “but WHY?” I had a lot of difficulty relating to her, especially her coping mechanisms for dealing with her grief. The book is a bit of a slow burn, so we don’t find everything out straight away. By the time I got to the big reveal about Reeve, I was just like:
I won’t say any more on that because I’ll only give spoilers away, but I just couldn’t deal. There were also insta-friendships with her Special Topics English crew, and later instalove with a particular character, without any build up or warning. I accept that these students have a lot in common, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be friends almost instantly, regardless of their shared experiences going to Belzhar. The book was almost too short, with not enough time being devoted to developing these relationships.
What I did enjoy, however, was Jam’s transformation through the Belzhar experience. There is a fantasy element to this book, and the characters are able to escape their trauma and grief through the use of “a miraculous other world called Belzhar,” if only for a little while. Jam showed personal growth, and I liked her a little more by the end of the book. I also really enjoyed her interactions with her little brother, it was so cute! I have a younger brother; the age gap isn’t quite so big but their interactions were reminiscent of me and my brother.
I also adored the character of Mrs. Quenell, the teacher of the Special Topics English class. She was such a fantastic teacher and we certainly need more of them in the world. She doesn’t treat the students with kid gloves just because they’ve been through some traumatic experiences, and getting them to read The Bell Jar is a clear example of this.
Overall, I think that my lack of knowledge of The Bell Jar impacted my experience reading Belzhar and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. That being said, I still found Belzhar to be an interesting read with some touching moments sprinkled throughout. If you like books with a fantasy element set in a contemporary period, you should give Belzhar a shot.
What did you think of this book? Did you enjoy it?