Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

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Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Belzhar
Meg Wolitzer
Genre: Magical Realism, YA
Publication date: September 30th
by Dutton Juvenile

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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.

3 Stars
3 Hot Espressos

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Canadian blogger, wife, mother, coffee lover, and sarcastic at heart! She has had a love for all things bookish since before Amazon and eReaders existed *le gasp*. You can also find her organizing tours and other fun things at Xpresso Book Tours.
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15 Responses to “Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer”

  1. Lisa @ Lost in Literature

    I think I would get frustrated with only skimming the surface emotionally too. I really enjoy when they delve deeply into emotions, not just talk about them obsessively. I’ve been curious about this one, so I’m glad to see you overall enjoyed it, despite the few issues you had with it. 🙂

  2. Nick @ Nick's Book Blog

    While this does sound like an intriguing and interesting read, I don’t think I would be okay with the lack of emotional depth, especially when it comes to books like these. I need too strongly for the book and it took you months to read? I don’t think I would like this unfortunately.
    Lovely review, Giselle!

  3. laura thomas

    I’m huge on character driven novels. I must be invested in their world or the book falls flat. I’ll pass on this one even though it sounds interesting and the cover art sure grabs ya. I enjoyed your thorough review and appreciate it Giselle:)
    Have a lovely weekend.

  4. Carmel @ Rabid Reads

    Months!? If a book takes me longer that a week to get through, then I usually just DNF it because it’s obviously not working for me. So-so characters, and too many eyeroll moments usually leave a bad taste in my mouth. Pass!

  5. Pili

    I have read quite a few mixed reviews of this one, most of them giving it 2 to 3 stars at the most, so with that I think I’m gonna be giving this one a pass!

  6. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    Too bad Giselle, thanks for sharing your honest thoughts on this. The cover has caught my eye a few times, but I always wondered what people thought of it. It does kind of sound cliche and I can see why you rolled your eyes during certain points lol! Lovely review!

  7. Melanie (YA Midnight Reads)

    A book that takes months to get through doesn’t sound too promising! I am getting this one in the mail soon and after reading all the reviews, I’m getting a little worried. I will just have to lower my expectations then.

    Lovely review as always, loverly <33

  8. Sarah @ Sarah's Book Shelves

    Disappointing to hear this didn’t live up to your expectations. I loved The Interestings and cautiously (cautiously since I wasn’t entirely sure about Wolitzer’s move to YA) had this one on my TBR, but will take it off now. Thanks for your honesty!