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Belzhar Hardcover – September 30, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Devastated by the death of her first love, 15-year-old Jam Gallahue is having difficulty moving on with her life. After nearly a year of being mired in grief, her parents send her to a boarding school in rural Vermont that specializes in "emotionally fragile" teens. Once there, she is surprised to have been one of five students selected by the legendary Mrs. Quenell for a class called Special Topics in English. It seems that the entire semester—Mrs. Q's swan song before retirement—will be devoted to the works of Sylvia Plath, and the students are given special red leather journals in which to record their reactions to the assigned readings. Jam is unenthusiastic at first until she realizes that these are no ordinary journals. When she and her classmates, all of whom have endured debilitating losses, begin to writing in their pages, they are transported to their former lives, at least for a while. The teens bond over their experiences in what they call Belzhar, and are able to share their stories and look out for and protect one another. As the semester progresses and the notebooks begin to fill up, they must each confront some inner demons and make some tough choices about their future paths. Wolitzer spins a smart and engrossing tale of trauma, trust, and triumph. She is respectful of the intelligence and sophistication of the teens while acknowledging their vulnerability and lack of life experience. Their voices ring true and the emotional truths are authentic—even for those readers unwilling or unable to embrace the magical realism. Exploring the themes of self-reflection and the recurring notion that "words matter" make this title a perfect choice for book groups and discussions.—Luann Toth, School Library Journal
Entertainment Weekly’s Best YA Book of 2014
Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2014
TIME magazine Top YA of 2014
NPR’s Book Concierge 2014 Great Reads List
Newsday 2014 Best Books for Young Readers
BookPage Best Children’s books of 2014
Bustle.com Top 25 YA Novels of 2014
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
2015 CBBC Choice List
"It’s been a long while since a book has pulled me in this way; I read it leaning forward, figuratively on the edge of my seat with my heart in my throat. I had no idea what was coming, but I was hungry to get there. So subtly plotted and painfully beautiful, I couldn’t put it down. Meg Wolitzer is a an amazing storyteller.” —Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming
"Wolitzer has imagined a world for young readers that celebrates the sacred, transcendent power of reading and writing." —The New York Times Book Review
“Expect depth and razor sharp wit in this YA novel from the author of The Interestings.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A prep school tale with a supernatural-romance touch, from genius adult novelist Meg Wolitzer.” —Glamour
“Basically everything Meg Wolitzer writes is worth reading, usually over and over again, and her YA debut…is no exception.” —TeenVogue.com
“Demonstrates the power of words to heal.” —The Washington Post
“A riveting exploration of the human psyche…Wolitzer's teenage characters are invigorated, flawed, emotionally real and intensely interesting. Even as readers fold back the layers of the story and discover unexpected truths and tragedies, the plot maintains an integrity that has come to be hallmark of Wolitzer's novels.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“A smart and engrossing tale of trauma, trust, and triumph.” —School Library Journal, starred review
"A strong, original book." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Wolitzer handles Jam’s increasingly complex psychological state with delicate, nonjudgmental nuance …teen readers, especially rabid Plath fans, will relish Wolitzer’s deeply respectful treatment of Jam’s realistic emotional struggle.” —Booklist
“Enlivened by humor, memorable characters and a page-turning mystery only revealed in its final pages, Belzhar explores the role of trauma in young lives.” —BookPage
"But Jam herself is a fantastic portrait of a girl somehow younger than her own age, unable to cope with the hardships of being a teenager, and the final twist of the novel reveals an unexpected aspect to her character that makes her all the more heartbreaking." —The Daily Beast
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Top Customer Reviews
1) Terrific writing. I still love Meg Wolitzer's writing. It's simple, yet powerful. One of my favorite quotes: "We're talking about a novel, right? But maybe we're not. We're talking about ourselves. And I guess that's what can start to happen when you talk about a book."
2) An awesome cast of characters. Why oh why couldn't Griffin have been the star of this novel? Or even Sierra, or Casey, or Marc, or Mrs. Q? They were all such deep characters, struggling to work through something, and I would've loved to see more from them!
3) The literary references to The Bell Jar. Having read The Bell Jar enriched my experience with this book. I really appreciated the Plath discussions and wordplay with the title, Belzhar.
4) The unexpected and mysterious magic. I was under the impression that this was a straight-up contemporary with no fantastical elements, but wasn't disappointed when the magic came into play. It was interesting and kept me guessing.
5) I read this book in one day because I couldn't put it down. It was so entertaining that I just had to see what happened next, not something to be dismissed.
Okay, so I had two MAJOR problems with this book:
1) The premise felt unreal and contrived. I just didn't buy that there exists a high school for emotionally fragile students AND within that school an elite English class that everyone wants to get into but can't because the teacher only selects a handful of students based on unknown merits. But I was willing to let this go until I read the ending.
2) The big unveiling about what happened to Reeve made me really hate the main character, Jam. <spoiler!>I started wondering if Reeve really died about halfway through the book, but hoped it would be something like he had to return home to England, leaving Jam devastated and heartbroken. That would've been okay. But for Jam to have completely fabricated their relationship! To have lied to everyone about what happened?! I can't believe Mrs. Q wasted a magic notebook on her! It wouldn't have been so bad if Jam's 'trauma' wasn't contrasted with everyone else in her class who were all dealing with very real problems.
Overall, this was a quick read and super entertaining, but unfortunately the ending let me down.
The story was captivating and held my interest throughout. During one reading I did not want to put the book down, but kept reading well past my bed time. The story was that great. The book starts off strong and grabbed my interest from the beginning.
The ending was not predictable at all and ended with a slight surprise, but in a manner that was satisfying and in the most logical way. I was tempted several times to jump to the end of the book and see how it ended, but I am glad I held off and read it through to the end.
The characters were drawn perfectly. I felt like I actually knew Jam, Marc, Sierra and Griffin. I could see them in my mind exactly as Ms. Wolitzer described them in the book. Even Ms. Q, the teacher was realistically created, even being a minor character in the book.
I don’t want to spoil the book for those who have not read it, but it is the story of several fragile, but highly intelligent children, who are sent to a boarding school in Vermont. Five of them are chosen for a class entitled Special Topics in English, taught by Ms. Q. She instructs them to write twice a week in their journal. Each time they write in their journal they are returned to the place of trauma that caused them to be sent to the school. They meet and share stories, all the while wondering if Ms. Q is aware of what happens when they write in their journals.
Each one of their trauma situations is tragic and heartbreaking, and learning how they overcome their trauma and mature is extremely heartwarming.
This is a fascinating book, beautifully written, not only for young adult readers, but for adult readers as well.
The dialogue was crisp and realistic. I could tell who was speaking, even without dialogue tags. Each character possessed their own unique voice.
The story pays tribute to Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar, but one does not need to be familiar with The Bell Jar in order to read and fully comprehend Belzhar.
This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it to all readers, young and old alike.
Each character in this book had a background story to tell. Each was told in the same generic voice, using the same unrealistic syntax.
The twist to the protagonist ' story--I won't give it away here--made her not at all relatable to me. Maybe if her character had been more developed, the twist would have worked better.
So many details feel glossed over. The protagonist and a few other peers are in this transformative English class, but all we read are cursory descriptions of the class. We read that their teacher is wonderful and inspiring--but none of the details given really let us understand what's so special about her.
In short: interesting premise, so so execution.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
When I first started Belzhar, I was genuinely invested. I liked the idea of the magical world, and the concept of a class that is apparently...Read more