If life were fair, then Jam Gallahue would be living comfortably in her house in New Jersey and spending time with her English boyfriend Reeve Maxfield. But in an unpredictable world where things seem unjust beyond our understanding, Jam’s life became a far cry from what she wished for it to be. The heartbreak of losing her boyfriend caused Jam to be admitted to the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic home in rural Vermont, in hopes of recovering from emotional frailty. On her much-dreaded first day of classes, she finds herself being enrolled in Special Topics in English, a highly coveted class taught by elderly Mrs Quenell.
The one and only book that this class of five had to study for the semester was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. This story of depression written by an author who committed suicide would have been the last choice for a group of vulnerable teenagers, yet Mrs Quenell had valid reasons for this unorthodox move. In addition, she hands out journals for her students to write in at least once a week. Through these journals, Jam finds herself enveloped in a whole new world where the untainted past is restored and she is reunited with Reeve once again, a world she calls Belzhar.
In her fascination and desperation to be with her first love, she filled the pages of her journal up fast until one day, only one page remained. Her last ticket to Belzhar forces Jam to confront hidden truths and ultimately decide what she was willing to sacrifice in order to reclaim her loss.
Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar is an intelligent read about trauma, trust and the road to finding closure. Wolitzer is not only observant in writing about intense devotion among close-knit groups of kindred souls, but also imagines a world for young readers that celebrates the transcendent power of reading and writing.
Trina Chong (4U)