Author: Meg Wolitzer
Release Date: September 30, 2014
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Genre: Teen/YA, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Jam Gallahue has not been able to recover from the death of her exchange student boyfriend, Reeve, so much so that she’s ended up at The Wooden Barn, a boarding school in Vermont that’s aimed at helping people like her “heal.” Jam swears she will never recover from Reeve’s death, but when she’s assigned to a small seminar studying Sylvia Plath, strange things begin to happen and Jam connects with the people in her class over these mysterious occurrences.
A sharp and smart novel, Meg Wolitzer’s YA debut has everything you’d expect from the talented author, combining a fascinating character with a literary homage to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
Belzhar is the first young adult novel by literary powerhouse Meg Wolitzer, and it revolves around the Sylvia Plath novel The Bell Jar (and the title is pronounced the same way). If you haven’t read The Bell Jar, you can still enjoy this novel but it’s hard to fully appreciate without that context. Wolitzer manages to make this novel a creative homage while also crafting a singular story that stands well on its own two feet. A difficult thing to do, but Wolitzer accomplished it masterfully.
Jam is a fascinating character in Belzhar. When the novel begins, she presents herself one way to the reader, as a teenager mourning the death of her boyfriend. But as the novel progresses, Jam reveals herself more to the reader. The two form a bond; as Jam feels more comfortable, she lets more details slip here and there. She lets her true self come forward, allows herself to be vulnerable to both the people around her and to the reader. It’s incredible character development on Wolitzer’s part, especially because the readers still becomes emotionally invested in Jam, even as they sense she’s holding the reader at a distance.
The gorgeousness of Belzhar (and indeed, that’s an apt word to describe it) comes from its unapologetic love of the written word. With this book, Wolitzer has written a testament to the power of literature, to how reading about someone else’s experiences (whether in fiction or nonfiction) and writing about your own can truly change a life. It’s a beautiful thing that Wolitzer did, especially because it’s a truth that we book lovers hold so dear—that words can change us for the better, they can help us heal, and allow us to escape into something entirely new.
If you’re looking for a smart and sharp novel, Belzhar should absolutely be on your list. It’s a quick, easy read, but one that will make you think, as Jam’s character slowly unfolds in front of you. Fans of The Bell Jar will certainly appreciate the literary references in the novel, but really this book will appeal to anyone interested in reading about the complexity of grief, love, loss, and ultimately accepting yourself for who you are.