Book Review #15: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Sunday, 4 January 2015
Please note before you read this review that I am reviewing this publication for Simon and

Schuster Children’s publishing house. I received an electronic advanced readers copy of this title from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. In no way is my opinion of this title influenced by the fact that I received this publication free of charge. Now on with the review!

Product details:
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Childrens
Format: eBook
Length: 352 pages
Published: 2014
Rating: ☆☆☆

Source: Advanced Copy through NetGalley

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.
My goodness this book you guys, this book. Holy moly this book gave me all of the feels. I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, I just want to say that Meg Wolitzer has rocketed up into my top 5 favourite authors list because of this book. I’ll be completely honest that I haven’t read anything else of hers, but this alone gives her credit. I’ve mentioned earlier on in my blog that this book was becoming one of my favourite books of 2014. This is true, however coming to the conclusion of this beautiful novel I have now decided it is probably the best book I have read in 2014. So where do I even begin?

First of all I just want to clear up an error I made about 50% of the way into this book. I said that the romance in this novel seemed unrealistic. Boy was I wrong. For those of you who have not read the novel, let me tell you now - there is a reason. For those of you who HAVE read the novel, wow. Clearly my earlier presumption of the romance was unjust because now it makes sense to me just why it seemed unrealistic. Well done Meg Wolitzer, you caught me out. Majorly. I was not expecting that in the slightest! Now that I have cleared that out of the air it’s time to discuss the basics, plot, characters, writing style and emotional trauma - I mean impact.

  • Plot - Obviously this novel is both very plot centred but also quite driven by the characters. I just need to get this out of the way again but I fully enjoyed the focus of exploring and solving the traumas that the students went through, both physical and especially mental. I loved the mentality of it all. Beautiful. I will admit that a fault I found with this book especially in the first half of the novel was that I felt as if events were just kind of being thrown at me. This happened, then this happened then this happened ect. From this I felt that it could have used some sort of flow just to kind of tie in a couple of the events to make sense to me just why they happened and how they influenced things rather than just being there. I don’t want to say much more about the plot because I would like to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but it needs to be identified that Meg Wolitzer handles the students traumas fabulously in my opinion, and I feel that that little aspect of magical realism was needed, as I think in a moment where you are facing such a difficult trauma, looking back on it willingly is hard. Due to this I definitely feel that having that magical realism where they are forced to look back each time they write in the journals kind of adds to the character’s desire for help. 

  • Characters - It is without a doubt that Meg Wolitzer has a full cast of characters, and to be fair we were introduced to a lot of them in a very short space of time. Confusing? A tad, but as each character developed - each in their own way I must admit, I felt that I wasn’t finding it difficult to distinguish any of them. Each character had their own persona and I was very glad that the author made this quite apparent to us. Jam (Jamaica) as a narrator. Hmmm. At first I felt that I wasn’t quite attached to Jam, she was very much ‘oh I love Reeve so much, Reeve Reeve Reeve’ and to be fair I found that very annoying at first. I now obviously realise why it was annoying and appreciate it all the more. Getting lots of ticks in my book here Wolitzer! As the novel progressed however I felt we really did get a deeper insight into Jam’s character and I feel that it was very much on a ‘Jam reveals what Jam wants to reveal’ kind of basis which I did appreciate a lot, it made the character quite real in the situation. I’ll be brief here, I loved the whole cast of the Special Topics in English class, Sierra had to be my favourite if I was going to be straight. Just the emotional roller coaster that I went through with her character. Just wow. Can I just say as well that I loved Mrs Quenell, I thought she was fantastic and some of the dialogue she came out with could put my english teachers to shame. So delicious some of the stuff she had to say, and as a teacher myself I found it so inspiring that she had just the right amount of wit to know her stuff and teach the kids what they needed to know but also by god did she have a sass side. It was subtle through her ignorance of the children’s hints towards the journals but ha I devoured each page with her on, even as a minor character development wise.

  • Writing style - I will admit that this was quite average in my opinion. I felt that at times the dialogue was beautiful as just discussed and there were other times where I was staring at the sentences like, ‘oh my goodness there are too many ands in this paragraph’ and I’ll be honest the teacher side of me came out and I started to count them at one point. However because of this simplicity it really reflected well in the story that was being told. Never once did I really thing about the author, I just got in the idea of the story being authored officially by Jam. Really that’s all I can say with the writing style, it wasn’t fabulous but it suited well for the way the story was being told.

  • Emotional impact/trauma- My goodness I do not use the word trauma lightly. Sierra’s ordeal of choosing to remain trapped in Belzhar so she didn’t have to live without her brother being there. Ah it killed me inside, I had tears running down my face when her little brother came on the phone at the end of the novel and left Jam hanging on the other end of the line. I knew Meg Wolitzer wasn’t going to let me down. She could not leave me on an unhappy ending after all of that! I don’t think I’ve gone through this much emotional impact since TFIOS. So besides Sierra was I impacted by the way the story was told/ what happened in the narrative? Yes. Yes I was. I could understand why each of the characters did what they did in their reactions to visiting Belzhar for the last time, I could understand Griffin’s angst throughout the book and I could understand Jam’s reluctance to want to reveal anything until literally the last chapter in the book. Definitely gave me a kind of We Were Liars vibe to all of it. I think the best thing about this book though was even though throughout the book I was looking forward to this big reveal about how Reeve died, I was not disappointed. Metaphorical death can sometimes be just as traumatic as actual death as this book shows. I’ve seen a lot of reviews slandering the ending saying how it was such a let down. I really think those people need to re-read the book carefully and pick out all of the in-depth details that link to why the ending was what is was.
So that’s my review! It was an emotional roller coaster of a book and I am so glad that I read it. Definitely a 2014 best read. It deserves all of the praise it is getting. Now where to rate it on my classification scale… this is where it gets difficult because everything inside of me is screaming 4/5 but with all of the commotion in the book reviewing community about reading critically, which I find to be very important. I have to admit there were a few flaws that I have outlined. Saying this, I believe that the impact this book has had strongly outweighs the flaws, so I am leaving this classification slightly open to opinion based on thought. If you read this review and can see that I have genuine faults with the book and aren’t bothered by the impact it had on me then by all means rate it an 3 stars. As a critical reading, that is honestly what I could classify it under. However, for this review and because I think in my opinion that having a book impact you in some way is immensely important in the book reviewing community, I am awarding Belzhar a classification of 4 stars, but as I said please feel free to take the more critically reviewed rating should you see fit.

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