Thursday 9 October 2014

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and  I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no no one knew what to do with me.  Finally it was decided that the best thing would be to send here. But if you ask anyone on staff or faculty, they’ll insist I was sent here because of ‘the lingering effects of trauma.’
Published by Simon and Schuster in October 2014
Pages – 264
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.
This book starts off as a slow burner. You know something terrible has happened, to Reeve, the love of Jam’s life, but you don’t know exactly what happened. All you know is that she is a real mess and needs therapy to get over him. So Jam ends up being send to The Wooden Barn, which is the type of school that helps fix young kids that stray away from what is considered normal behavious. Jam is chosen to attend a special English class with a select few, where they study the life and works of Sylvia Path. Each teenager can identify with the author in a different way. Their teacher expects them to write their thoughts down in the journals she has provided them with. Reluctantly they begin to write in them. Now this is where the book takes an unusual turn and you realise that you have stepped out of a contemporary novel, into an ever so slightly paranormal one.
For me this book was very much a mixture of the 80’s drama Truly, Madly, Deeply, and the 80’s film Flatliners, with a hint of The Breakfast Club. Each teenager needed to confront their past in order to move on. By using the journals and visiting the past, they realised what they need to do to change in order to start feeling normal again. Each teenager in the group had a very different problem to fix.
I loved the idea of Belzhar. This is how I’d imagine ‘heaven on earth’ to be. A place where life doesn’t move, as time truly stands still. Yet as the story shows, change stops staleness and breathes fresh life into the world. The teenagers each realise in their own way that they can no longer stay stuck in the past; they have to let it go and move on.
The ending of the book really threw me. I thought it was an amazing twist, to an emotional read. The book really highlights the throes of first love – how it consumes your every waking moment, so that nothing else matters. On the flip side, when love has gone, it can be like a light being extinguished and many can no longer see any reason to go on. It was quite strange to step back into my teenage shell and remember how much love actually hurt. The book shows that love can be fickle and doesn’t always affect both partners in the same way.
I really loved this book. I enjoyed getting into Jam’s head and finding out how she truly felt. This will definitely be one I will be recommending to everyone to read.

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