Saturday, August 1, 2015

Teen review: Belzhar

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda, grade 11


What happens to your entire life when the love of your life dies when you’re a teenager? Obviously, your parents send you to a boarding school in Vermont!

In Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar, Jamaica, known as Jam to her friends and family, is distraught when Reeve dies, and she plummets into a deep depression from which no one can rescue her. Jam is sent to boarding school at a place called The Wooden Barn for “fragile” teenagers, and stuck in a class called Special Topics in English with a mysterious Mrs. Quenelle. This class is strange. It’s been called legendary by the students at The Wooden Barn. It’s been known to change the students’ lives. It isn’t even taught every year. Mrs. Quenelle only picks five students to be in it, and sometimes there aren’t even the right people for it, so she doesn’t teach the class that year. She hands out journals to the five students: Jam (who didn’t ask to be in the class and wants nothing to do with it), Sierra, Griffin, Casey, and Marc. The five are told to write in the journal twice a week for an assignment.

When Jam finally writes in the journal, she is thrown into a sort of alternate universe where everything in her life is perfect again. Reeve is alive and well, and he’s the only one there. When she is finally sucked back into her reality at The Wooden Barn, she doesn’t understand what just happened and she doesn’t want to say anything because they would think she was crazy. The thing is, though, it’s not just her who’s thrown into this trance when writing in her journal. It’s the entire class. Throughout the novel, they work together to help each other overcome their terrible pasts and figure out the enigma of Belzhar, which is what the class has come to name their special new world.

I thought this book was amazing. In its 264 pages, I felt that I was in my own special Belzhar that Wolitzer had created just for the reader. The only thing I did not like about the book was how The Wooden Barn describes itself as a place for “fragile” teenagers, because it isn’t that they’re fragile--they’re just teenagers to whom bad things have happened, and these young people are strong but reacted to them like any human being would do. I love Belzhar and every aspect to its magical realism qualities.


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