Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer was an interesting read. The concept behind both Belzhar and Belzhar was such a cool and inspired idea; it’s almost like a Narnia for people who need healing in their lives. Belzhar as a whole though, was mediocre for me – while I really liked the storyline, I wasn’t sold on the characters (among other things).
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.
I really liked the idea of Belzhar and everyone having their own personal Belzhar. I loved hearing about the other classmates’ “issues” (what do you call them?)- tragic as they were – because I really formed a connection with them. At first I was skeptical about Belzhar – I mean, it really didn’t seem to be a healthy thing for Jam – but as I saw the way it opened her mind, I really grew to like it. The way it tied into Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and the concept of the bell jar was very cool. I wish the book had been longer (it’s rather short, at only 264 pages) because I was wanting more. More what, you ask?
Mainly, more from the characters. I didn’t feel like I really knew Jam. I couldn’t imagine seeing her in one of my classes or sitting beside her or even watching her perform with the Barntones. I felt really disconnected. The same with another main character, Griffin. And I really liked Griffin – in theory. But I didn’t feel anything for him. He didn’t give me the swoons or the sighs or a smile or anything. I think my problem with these characters is that they felt flat and unremarkable. I didn’t feel any kind of chemistry between Jam and Griffin, so while I totally shipped them, it was a ship I was watching from the shore. They felt awkward and uncomfortable with each other and that made me uncomfortable. Casey and Marc, on the other hand, were probably my favourite people in this book, and I really wish the story had been about them, instead.
Jam’s “issue” for me was both odd and intriguing. At one point, when we finally realize what her “issue” is I was a lot more surprised than I expected to be – it completely blindsided me. But at the same time, I was disappointed by it. What her “issue” involves is something pretty serious, or so we think throughout the novel, but then when everything becomes clear, I felt like, oh. I was very much let down by the discrepancy between what she felt – which seemed very intense and grave – and what actually happened.
There were times when the language used by the teenagers in the book was just…peculiar. I have to awkward-laugh at this, because it was a little painful to read because I’m almost entirely convinced that the grand majority of teenagers don’t say things like “hottie exchange student” or text as though we still use T9 phones. It’s such a small little detail to nitpick but it was really off-putting for me.
Overall, even though I didn’t love the main characters and though Jam’s “issue” was more disappointing then shocking, I would still recommend this book. The storyline and concept are so interesting and the secondary characters are so unique and memorable that it almost makes up for the flaws in this book.