Author: Meg Wolitzer
Category/Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fantasy, Magical Realism
See it at Goodreads
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.
Let me start by saying that Belzhar has one of the covers I can’t seem to stop staring at. It’s one of my favorite covers in the last few years for some strange reason--despite that I don’t think there’s anything different about it really, but it’s just out there, and it sticks out particular to me. If I hadn’t picked it up at BEA, I still would have grabbed it up immediately from a bookstore without bothering to find out what it could be about first. And I didn’t know at the time of pick-up what it was even going to be about, I just felt inexplicably drawn to this title and wanted it badly. It was at the top of my list of must-haves for the cover alone. I know… how wrong of me as a reader, right? But it happens to the best of us.
When I pulled myself from my reading slump recently, I knew which title I was going to go for: Belzhar. The cover was calling to me again from my shelf, and I had to know if the contents inside was just as good. I’d finally learned what it was supposed to be about by then, too, and it sounded intriguing. Reviews from my peers were up and down though. Half seemed to really like it, and the other half seemed to really dislike it. So I was stuck at a crossroads on which side I could end up on.
From the start, I adored the story. The details and background into The Wooden Barn were interesting, along with the variety of the characters. I also really liked how the story drew parallels to The Bell Jar and each character had their own little world. It had a strong beginning to the introduction of each individual and their tragedies, along with the development of their personalities.
However, toward the end of the middle and the last portion of the read is where it began to fall flat. This is where I begin to pick up minor details (and some annoyances) that just felt off to me mostly. I didn’t particularly like the characterization of DJ--the girl with the ‘eating problems’ because well, I didn’t feel like she was displayed properly as someone who deals with this. From my own personal experiences, DJ’s character was certainly treated like a joke in my honest opinion… and I would’ve like more from her so that a reader could understand. If the author wanted to portray characters dealing with real issues, then portray them. Otherwise, maybe DJ shouldn’t have felt like such a forced character. This is only my opinion naturally. I did like that she was open in her feelings and sexuality later. I just wanted MORE.
It’s such a hard book for me to review without revealing spoilers. I kind of want to talk about THAT ENDING but I can’t. It just didn’t satisfy though. I feel like it could’ve been more also though. It was a good twist, I’ll give it that. But I do feel it would still have more impact had it been what readers thought it was going to be from the beginning. Maybe some changes--but I didn’t feel the impact. And the twist disappointed in the long run leaving me to feel deflated and blah when the last page turned. I still had more questions of the characters and their stories, too. So yeah...
The romance, though slow and subtle throughout, was strange for the most part. I couldn’t connect. When it happened toward the end of the middle I was just left feeling “okay.” I liked him as a character overall and was glad to finally know his story as well, but it was underwhelming to say the least.
Saying all of this, you’d think I’d hated the book. But I didn’t. There was an odd sense of likeness throughout and I never wanted to put the book down because I had the desire to keep reading this odd story, up until the end as I said above. Mostly, I just really like the general idea and the Bell Jar theme of the overall piece. It’s a book I will still keep in my thoughts for a long time and will continue to recommend to others when looking for something different to read.
I would definitely read more from this author in the future, for that I'm certain. :)