Simon and Schuster, 2014
YA – Contemporary, Fantasy
Following the death of her boyfriend Reeve, Jam is sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for ‘emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers.’ At first Jam is reluctant – her roommate DJ seems strange, and she just wants time to grieve. But when she gets a place in the coveted and mysterious Special Topics in English class, things change. The five students in the class have traumatic pasts and secrets, and seem to have been randomly selected. They are studying The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s famous autobiographical novel. But when they write in their journals, Jam and her fellow students are transported into their pasts, in an alternate universe they name Belzhar.
Meg Woltizer’s novel is utterly gripping. Her characters are memorable and well written, and their struggles are handled in a sensitive and honest manner. The characters in the Special Topics class are an interesting group, and their growth throughout the novel is moving. It is a book about self-discovery and about accepting the past, which is what Jam eventually learns to do.
I loved Wolitzer’s style of writing, especially this quote:
‘his voice sounded like a lit match being held to the edge of a piece of brittle paper’
The element of mystery makes for a very compelling read, as does Jam’s unreliability as a narrator – there are so many questions for the reader. What is Belzhar? What happened in Jam’s past? And what will happen when the students reach the end of their journals? Belzhar is a compelling and creative book, and one I will definitely be re-reading!
Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids. See what the other reviewers thought of Belzhar here.