07 October 2014

Today's Read: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Belzhar by Meg WolitzerWhat if you were hurt so much by the loss of a loved one you could no longer move forward? For fifteen-year-old Jam Gallahue, the world stopped one fall morning while she was walking across the high school practice fields on her way to class. Will a new school help her find the strength or peace or determination to look to the future?

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 one knew what to do with me. Finally it was decided that the best thing would be to send me here. But if you ask anyone on staff or faculty, they'll insist I was sent here because of "the lingering effects of trauma." Those are the words that my parents wrote on the application to get me into The Wooden Barn, which is described in the brochure as a boarding school for "emotionally fragile, highly intelligent" teenagers.

On the line where it says "Reason student is applying to The Wooden Barn," your parents can't write "Because of a boy."

But it's the truth
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Penguin USA / Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Vermont; modern times
  • Circumstances: Reeling from the loss of her boyfriend, Jam is sent to a special high school in hopes that she will once again embrace life. To her surprise, she is chosen for the most coveted class: Special Topics in English, which promises to be life changing. The five students spend the semester reading Sylvia Plath and keeping a journal. They grow close, and for reasons they cannot share with anyone else, the class is indeed deeply transforming.
  • Characters: Jam and her parents and brother; Reeve, her boyfriend; the four other students in her English class; various other friends, teachers, and even enemies
  • Genre and audience: magical realism; contemporary fiction; generation-crossing young adult fiction
  • Themes: grief; mental health issues; friendship; trauma; healing; forgiveness; family; love; reality vs fantasy
  • Messages I loved: That words and books have the power to heal, that what we get out of books and poetry is affected by our personal experiences and expectations, and that by examining and accepting the past we can often find a way into the future.
  • Characters and plotting: Wolitzer doles out the facts slowly, so that although there is no mystery in the traditional sense you still feel tension: What experience brought each young person to the school? Who will find healing and who might be lost forever? I bought the premise and thought the execution of the story was excellent. But although I grew to care about Jam and one of the boys in her class (Griffin), some of the other kids were not quite solid enough for me.
  • Recommendation: Read this one! It might not have been perfect, but I loved it. Had I not been listening to the audiobook, I would have read it one sitting.
  • Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 8 hr, 6 min) was narrated by Jorjeana Marie. Although Marie has dozens of audios under her belt, this was my first time listening to her. In a word? Wow. Marie gave her voice a believable teen quality, and her tempo and feel for the story drew me in and held me. In addition, her characterizations, although not overdone, were consistent and clear. Don't hesitate to give the audio a try.


Pat @ Posting For Now 10/7/14, 6:14 AM  

This sounds wonderful. Overcoming the grief caused by the loss of a loved one is difficult at any age.

Maya Love 10/7/14, 6:31 AM  

Glad you enjoyed this one. It looks interesting.
Here's My Teaser

Karen and Gerard 10/7/14, 6:43 AM  

This one sounds like something I would like-- adding to my TBR.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 10/7/14, 7:09 AM  

I didn't realize M.W. wrote YA. I like the sound of this novel. enjoy

Laura Thomas 10/7/14, 8:11 AM  

You'd never know the story inside by that cover. I think I'd enjoy this one. The writing is strong.
Here is my TT - http://fuonlyknew.com/2014/10/07/teaser-tuesdays-84-the-death-of-death/

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 10/7/14, 8:27 AM  

I had this one on my TBR list forever and then took it off when I started to hear about the magical realism. But, I really loved that intro and have now read a few really good reviews of the book. Maybe it will have to go back on...
Plus, I loved The Interestings.

Deasy Yolanda 10/7/14, 8:43 AM  

that's really an interesting thought you have there, Beth! I'll make sure I check this one out. Thanks for sharing!

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow 10/7/14, 8:45 AM  

I loved it, too, and read it a couple of months ago. Very unusual story.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Catherine BookClubLibrarian 10/7/14, 8:56 AM  

I'm intrigued...and would keep reading. Thanks for sharing it and for visiting my blog.

sherry fundin 10/7/14, 9:22 AM  

Between your tease and everyone's comments, I have become very curious. Thanks for sharing.
sherry @ fundinmental My TT - Who's Afraid of a Little Kitty Kat

JoAnn 10/7/14, 11:13 AM  

The Interestings is one of my favorite books this year and I added this one to my wish list as soon as it was released. The big decision will be whether to read or listen. Love the idea of reading it in one sitting, but would be equally happy discovering a new narrator over the course of a few long walks. I'm glad to know you loved it!

Suzie Quint 10/7/14, 11:31 AM  

I love magical realism when it's done well. My book this week is Don't Let Go

Sandy Nawrot 10/7/14, 12:17 PM  

This woman is SUCH a good storyteller, I have no doubt this is amazing. You've convinced me. I'm off to go hunting on the library website.

Sandra Nachlinger 10/7/14, 12:26 PM  

Although I don't read many young adult novels, this sounds like one I'd enjoy. I especially like the idea of books having the power to heal.
Thank you for visiting my blog today.
Sandy @Texas Twang

Beth Hoffman 10/7/14, 1:16 PM  

I need to read this!

Alice Audrey 10/7/14, 1:47 PM  

Great teaser! Simple and straight forward yet wry.

Daryl 10/7/14, 2:23 PM  

Meg Wolitzer .. i was sure i had read something else of her's but after Googling i find i havent .. thanks i will keep this in mind!

Literary Feline 10/7/14, 2:56 PM  

The intro of this one hooked me right away. My heart already aches for Jam. I would definitely keep reading--especially since you recommend it. :-)

Topazshell 10/7/14, 3:21 PM  

Since we we have to experience loss, it's a part of life, I never grow tired of the subject in a book. I guess its my need to see how people live through it. How do they keep walking and working? Will write this title down.

Kerry O'Donnell 10/7/14, 3:42 PM  

That's a great teaser. I'm very curious as to how well she knew the boy. It says she loved him, but this makes me want to know if he loved her too... Great pick!

Here's My Teaser!

Trisha 10/7/14, 4:55 PM  

I keep seeing reviews of this book and I am most definitely intrigued.

Kim@Time2Read 10/7/14, 4:57 PM  

This sounds like a good one. I think I would enjoy it!

Yvonne 10/7/14, 6:25 PM  

Sounds wonderful! Great teaser!

Nise' 10/7/14, 8:22 PM  

I have requested this on on audio and am looking forward to listening.

Margot 10/7/14, 11:51 PM  

I like the first paragraph but, better yet, I like the message of the book.

rhapsodyinbooks 10/8/14, 6:44 AM  

I don't know about the magical realism bit....

kelley jensen 10/9/14, 12:47 AM  

I love the beginning, I'd keep reading. Thanks for stopping by. Have a nice week! kelley—the road goes ever ever on

Paulita 10/9/14, 7:45 AM  

Another emotional roller coaster from Wolitzer. Sounds good.

Sue Jackson 10/13/14, 7:01 PM  

I just listened to Belzhar on audio, too, and loved it! I was also completely pulled in by the premise (and I'm not really a fan of magic realism always).

Nice start for her first YA novel!


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