Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

image: Goodreads
 Meg Wolitzer
 Young Adult Contemporary
 Published: September 2014

I love this premise: emotionally damaged kids surviving their loss at a tucked-away Vermont boarding school, and the teacher who encourages them to journal while reading Sylvia Plath. This book is like gateway reading to The Bell Jar, one of my favorite books. 

Wolitzer is a wonderful writer, with a number of adult market books of note. Plus, I saw her speak at Anderson's Books YA Literature Conference and bought this book a few days prior to its release (special!). I wanted to 5 star this book in the first chapter, though something about the overall execution knocked this down a bit for me. Perhaps my own inflated expectations. 

I read  Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar at fifteen. It's a complex novel exploring depression. Belzhar, which is a take on the words bell jar, takes a somewhat lighter approach, though the trauma the characters have experienced is quite serious. The lead character Jam (a nickname though I can't remember the full name) plays somewhat of an unreliable narrator. All we know going in is that her boyfriend died, and the details are revealed over the course of the book. To me it seemed the story started in a moody place, but ultimately did not go as deep into their grief and depression as I expected. Instead, the story takes a somewhat higher level approach, and focuses on the friendships between the kids enrolled in the special English course they were each handpicked to take. 

Also, there is a mystical element. I thought I'd mention that, though it sort of veers more Magical Realism than fantasy. I would definitely recommend this for teen readers, especially as a companion to reading The Bell Jar, which might make the classic feel more accessible. 

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