Genre: Magical Realism, YA
Publication date: September 30th
by Dutton Juvenile
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.
-A copy was provided by Penguin Canada for review-
It took me months to get through this one, I kept forgetting I was even reading it, so let’s just say it wasn’t a memorable read for me. It is unique, don’t get me wrong, but I just didn’t really care about any of these characters. Then when the magical element got introduced, it made the book even less interesting, not more as I had hoped.
Ok so let’s start with this premise. After her boyfriend dies, Jam gets sent to boarding school for troubled teens, and in one of her classes she’s given a journal that, to her surprise, sends her to a magical place whenever she writes in it. This place is free of pain and heartache: it’s a world where the tragedy that brought them to this school has not happened. Although this might sound cheesy, I thought it was a really creative premise with tons of potential. I expected a lot of depth and soul searching, but instead I found myself getting bored while we did nothing but skim the surface, emotionally. The characters themselves were not bad, but they weren’t especially interesting either. This “deep bond” that apparently connected them was brought up so much it only made it feel forced. So in turn, I quickly grew frustrated with it all.
This might just be my being used to extreme emotional situations in the books I read, but I couldn’t stop from rolling my eyes at a few aspect in this story. Look at this class of people, for instance: a handful of teens selected from a pool of damaged kids because the teacher thought they needed special help to get through this difficult time. One is there because she was in an accident and got paralyzed, another is there because she’s blaming herself for her brother’s disappearance, and then we have this guy who’s there because he found out his father cheated. Oh and also, because he’s now getting Cs instead of As. Umm ok. That sucks and everything, but that hardly makes you a tragedy. Another instance that made me roll my eyes until they hurt, I unfortunately can’t talk about. It’s the “big reveal” of what really happened during the last day of Jam’s boyfriend’s life. And oh my freaking word you are not freaking kidding me! Kudos for being unpredictable, at least.
Then there were added details and sub plots in the book that were not really necessary and only distracted from the main storyline. The a cappella thing, the whole deal with her brother’s snarky/changed behaviour, a freaking doe giving birth?? Why? I get that it can help to develop characters and give them a realistic life with family dynamics and such, but it just felt like pointless plot additions in this case.
All in all, Belzhar is an intriguing read, one that uses anticipation and curiosity in a way that makes you want to keep reading to find out the truth. With that said, despite my problems with it I do think it deserves 3 stars. It simply falls short emotionally and failed to live up to my expectations at the end.