Rating: 3 stars
This book has had some hype behind it since early this year, so I was excited to give it a try. A likeness to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, the title being an obviously play on the word, was what intrigued me to read Belzhar in the first place. I first read SP’s only novel earlier this year and immediately fell in love it, which I should have figured since I’ve loved her poetry for years now. It’s a novel that does what little other novels have done: It shows the breakdown and rebuilding of a young woman’s mental health in a realistic fashion (it’s so realistic because it’s largely autobiographical). This novel was promised to take readers on a similar journey, so I made sure the library ordered a copy.
For those interested, here’s the summary:
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.
Meg Wolitzer has written tons of books that have been generally well received (Although, I’ve never read any of them), so I had reasonably high hopes. The beginning of the novel starts out interesting. You’re given Jam’s major life-altering event; her super-hot British boyfriend is dead. He’s dead and she’s derailed, no longer caring about anything but the fact that he’s no longer with her. Her parent’s do what any parents would do(especially if they’re tired of dealing with a depressed teenager) and ship her off to a boarding school in Vermont for intelligent, fragile teens.
Everyone there has had some horrible sh*t happen to them, but no one wants to talk about it and they all mope around. Then Jam learns from her roommate, that her Special Topics English Class is actually, really and truly, special. Like Dead Poetry Society special. Jam’s roommate is so jealous that Jam is in this really cool class and she’s not. Jam doesn’t care.
But Jam begins to care once class gets going. The readings and the journal Jam’s given by Special Topics teacher, Mrs. Q, are really making an impact on the students, and really making them open up about their pasts, all except Jam and one sullen dude named Griffin.
As the semester wears on, the journals become a big deal. A really big deal, in terms of recovery and relationships. And that’s where I’ll reign this summary in because I don’t want to give away too much.
This book was an okay read. It wasn’t particularly great, mainly because there are some mental health tropes that are trotted out and used repeatedly, like the “always chipper handicap person” and the “something bad must have happened to make you depressed” types. Mental health is much more complex than that, and Jam’s mental health (if she were a real person) would be a lot more complex than is portrayed. The characters were all fairly flat, too, especially the British bf, who loves everything that’s quintessentially British (even though there might be a slight reason behind that one).
If you’re looking for a quick read that’s different, I’d go for Belzhar. It’s not horrible, in fact it’s enjoyable at times, but it’s definitely not on the same level as The Bell Jar.