Saturday, December 17, 2016

BELZHAR BY MEG WOLITZER - BOOK REVIEW

Hello everyone!

I am back with another book review, today it is Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer.


I went into this book, for the most part, completely blind. I knew that it had something to do with The Bell Jar, but not having read that book and just having basic knowledge about Sylvia Plath, I wasn't sure what to expect.

I'll give a basic summary, but this book is almost too bizarre to recap. Our main character is Jamaica or Jam for short. After falling apart after the loss of her boyfriend Reeve, Jam is sent to The Wooden Barn, a place described as a 'halfway house' between the realities of everyday school and a psychiatric facility. There she ends up in a special English class taught exclusively to a small number of selected individuals. In this class, Jam meets others who are also struggling with loss; Sierra, who blames herself for her brother's kidnapping three years ago and is falling apart trying to find him, Griffin, who is blamed by his parents for the fire that happened in their barn and killed all of their goats, something he can't forgive himself for, Marc, who after finding out about his parents affair told his mother and broke up his family, and Casey, who is bound to a wheelchair ever since her mother's drunk driving caused her injuries. The teacher assigns Plath's novel and weekly journal assignments for the students to complete.

I fear I've already said too much about the plot so I'd better stop there.

As a character and narrator, I enjoyed Jam's perspectives. Her roommate DJ had issues as well (eating disorder) and it was interesting to see her interacting with people outside her English class. We get the background information on what happened with Reeve through the journal entries, and it was interesting to see their dynamic.

I will also just say I definitely did not see that whole thing with Reeve happening. But looking back, I suppose it makes sense. And I think that in itself is an interesting comment on the issue the book touches on. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Looking back, some things don't add up. But like others at The Wooden Barn and those with mental illnesses, you don't really see that there is something wrong unless you are looking for it. I think that is an important detail that is woven in nicely with Plath's novel. Her depression was hidden, but there were signs if one only knew to look for them.

I think Wolitzer did a good job of creating the magical realism elements throughout the story, and creating a world where these things exist.

I just didn't love the characters as much as I think I could have. There is a great variety of people in this story, specifically those in the English class, but I felt like we don't really know them. I think there was enough time in this book to flesh out some of the characters more deeply, even Jam feels a little too surface-level. Towards the end, there is some clarity to her character, but I think there was so much potential to create a great group of friends here that was missed.

This book had a great opportunity to talk about mental illness, and the 'emotional fragility' of today's teens, but it just kind of trivialized it by having a school full of them. It was Hogwarts for the 'Fragile.'

I think there was just a lot of issues going on that I don't really have the time or energy to go over. The story felt very one-dimensional, while the Belzhar world was kind of fun, I just think that some of that effort could have gone into other aspects of the book.

Overall, not really a fave.