This week I want to talk about a book which I still am not entirely sure about.
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer is a YA magical realism novel that follows Jam Gallahue, a teenage girl whose life was so perfect until her boyfriend died a few months ago and left her unsure of what to do anymore. With her family still worried for Jam’s health and confused at how they can help her, their only solution becomes a therapeutic boarding school for teens who have, like her, experienced some emotional trauma. Upon her arrival Jam is selected along with other highly intelligent and damaged teens to be apart of an exclusive and illusive club known as ‘Special Topics in English’. It is here that they are given diaries that with every entry transport the user to a miraculous other world known as Belzhar. This story is a whirlwind of good literature, dazzling mystery and the question of what it means to be young and in love.
My feelings about this book are very mixed and generally very ambivalent in all senses. I will start with the plot because, quite literally, it is the core of every story. Belzhar hooked me in with it’s gorgeous blurb that promised other worlds and beautiful broken teens however, this is simply not the case in the actual book itself. The plot has an interesting premise and a lot of intrigue but it’s execution is it’s greatest downfall. Wolitzer’s handling of events and the chronology of those events simply did not do this book justice. Everything felt rushed, shallow and at times, unnecessary. If this novel was only slightly longer or simply better written then the promising ideas behind it could of been realised so much more impressively. There is a small silver lining to it all, that is, as a whole this book possesses that intangible addictive nature that has become synonymous with the YA sub-genre. To put it simply, yes this is a badly written book but also yes this is an exciting book that I would choose to read again. Think of trashy Wattpad fan fiction you read on a dull Thursday night and you’re almost there.
The superheroes of this book are it’s characters and their back stories. Despite the nature of the plot I would definitely argue that this is a character driven narrative. Wolitzer has weaved a life like cast that each posses a different point of intrigue, all knitted together in vivid and almost natural relationships. Each of the individual back stories of all of the damaged teens are the trophies that give me a reason to even bother giving this book a mention and without the effort the author puts into her character exploration I would say that Belzhar would very quickly become a bland flop.
The question of whether or not I would recommend this book is a difficult one. There are, as you know, two sides to every story and my feelings for Belzhar are true to this. I recommend it to you for the engrossing lives that are lived through this novel. I warn you away from the poor writing style and sometimes empty meaning.
I give this book a 2.7 out of 5 stars.
Keep on reading!
And thanks again Beth