Review: Belzhar - Meg Wolitzer

Release Date: October 9th 2014
Published By: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 264
Goodreads: Add it to your reading list
Purchase: Click here to purchase

Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis: If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be at home in New Jersey with her sweet British boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.

Review: Belzhar follows Jamaica (Jam for short) who is heartbroken over the death of her boyfriend Reeve. Jam is unable to move past his death, she is completely broken - she is depressed, withdrawn and unable to move on with her life. Her friends have pulled away from her, and her parents are at a loss on how to help her, so they send her to The Wooden Barn in hopes that she will learn to deal with her grief. It is here that she meets other teenagers who are also dealing with loss or other heartbreaking tragedies. And it is here, that she is enrolled in a class that will forever change her - “Special Topics in English”.

Each class member has been hand selected by a unique and unafraid teacher, and none of the students actually understand why they have been placed in this class. Each student, although completely different, have been chosen to attend this class for an unknown reason. This bunch of students are all damaged, are all facing their own demons, and all at a loss. Until their teacher provides them all with a red leather journal for them write down their thoughts or memories. But these journals are far more than an old pieces of paper to write down their feelings, it actually transports the students back to a place in their lives before their tragedy. They are transported to another plane which allows them to relive old memories. For Jam, this means that she can be transported back to Reeve. To a time where he is alive. And while it does allow some alterations to the memory (different conversation etc), it does not allow them to create new moments that did not happen previously. This is a place, where they can be happy and whole once again, able to live in a moment with their loved one, or in a place before tragedy stuck them. They call this place Belzhar.

Jam is intense. Really intense. She is emotional, she is devastated and she is totally absorbed in her own grief and loss. And once she finds it, she is desperate to be reunited with Reeve through Belzhar. Belzhar is where she can be with Reeve, she can be in love, she can free of the pain of losing him, she can feel his arms around her again, where she can be happy. Jam has suffered so much for her young age, and although I did feel the intensity of her feelings for Reeve may have been a little premature due to the time they had actually been together, I cannot judge on when someone falls in love, and I certainly cannot judge on how someone deals with their grief. And you certainly cannot deny her grief, her feelings of abandonment and her feeling of hopelessness. She is broken.

As we slowly get to know her classmates, and learn of their grief and trauma, you cannot help but feel for them as well. In fact, these characters, although suffering for different reasons, will all completely break your heart. All of these teens are desperate to return to Belzhar, to a place before their whole world shattered. However, as time goes on, most of them realise that Belzhar isn’t real, and they understand that one day they will have to let it go. Jam however is more reluctant to come to this conclusion. She struggles with the reality that she cannot keep going to Belzhar. But with her personal relationships changing, and her knowledge that her time in Belzhar is running out, she starts to see her relationship with Reeve in a different light. And she also starts to untangle herself from the memories that she has so desperately clung to.

Belzhar is a unique concept, cleverly written and more than a little surprising. It will pull on your heart strings and it will leave you conflicted (I was very conflicted, but I cannot elaborate any more than that due to spoilers). I would have liked to have known a little more about the other characters “endings”, but in some way, leaving it a little open seems fitting with this storyline. These teenagers have been trapped for so long, it is now nice to think that maybe they don’t have to feel that way any longer.

A heart-breaking contemporary novel that includes a little bit of magic, exactly where the characters need it most.



“There’s no point in being awake anymore. Without Reeve, I’m hardly even a person.”

“Everyone has something to say. But not everyone can bear to say it. Your job is to find a way.”

“We can’t be afraid of change. Or else we will miss out on everything.”

“Sometimes you think people will be around forever, and then you lose them with no warning at all.”

“Sometimes an alternative world is so much better than the real one.”

“The voice. It doesn’t matter what you say. It matters who does the saying. It matters whose voice it is.”

“Words matter”


What do you think?

  • Sallie M. says:

    I loved this book, even though it sort of pissed me off in the end, but it just goes to show that Jam completely changed her way of life after Reeve, and it was definitely for the better. It’s almost like she was a completely different person during her time at the Wooden Barn than what her memories reveal to be the truth from before. I loved the relationships between the classmates, and I thought the shout out to The Bell Jar was fantastic. This was one of those books I desperately wanted and after having a reading dry spell for months, I picked this book up on its release date and finished it a few hours later. I was that engrossed in Belzhar. Great review - I don’t think I would have been able to do it without giving something vital away.

    • Kristy says:

      I was rather conflicted about the same part Sallie.
      And yes, I applaud the connection to The Bell Jar - it was very well done.
      It was a little hard to review without including spoilers (especially around the thing that made me conflicted), but I tried my best to review it anyway :)

  • Brit says:

    I really enjoyed this book too. I remember thinking, too, how intense Jam’s feelings were and I questioned it a little but I got so sucked in to it all. Couldn’t put it down, great book. And now I want to read The Bell Jar. Great review :)
    Brit recently posted…Double Review: Just One Day & Just One YearMy Profile

    • Kristy says:

      I definitely questioned the intensity of her feelings, but then maybe that is because I am old person now and forget what it is like to feel with the same intensity of a teenager ;)

  • Kelly says:

    I felt exactly the same reading this. I loved it, but the ending left me so conflicted as well. I may have even thrown in a few head shakes and finger wags at Jam. I wasn’t sure how the fantasy element and contemporary would blend really, but it was actually a delight. Awesome review babe <3

    P.S. Wow, that spammer that's above me making a six figure salary online, I'm assuming the penile enlargement business is paying pretty well. Who knew hey :D
    Kelly recently posted…Black Ice by Becca FitzpatrickMy Profile

    • Kristy says:

      I am so glad I am not alone with feeling conflicted - and even though I may have shaken my head as well, I enjoyed the fact that I was so conflicted over it - that means it got me thinking, and let’s be honest, I wasn’t really expecting that side of things.

      I have now deleted the spam - but I know they grabbed their details before I did, so you can now earn six figures this way as well ;)

  • Congrats, you are now partially responsible for me buying yet another book. This review, along with the one in BookPage, resulted in my pre-order of this book. Well done. Having been through more than the usual amount of trouble and grief as a teenager, I’m really interested to read about Jam and this school. Sometimes I wish there had been a place like that for me.
    Leila @ LeilaReads recently posted…Why I YA (And You Should, Too)My Profile

    • Kristy says:

      :D I love being responsible for such things! It is an honour to be part of a reason why someone reads a book - that is what I am here for :)
      What I loved about this book, is that it wasn’t so much the place that helped these teens, it was the support of each other and the healing power of writing.
      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  • This book sounds amazing and I’ve been hearing so many good things about it around the blogosphere. I find the concept so unique, and I love me some magic realism! It doesn’t hurt that the cover is so pretty as well. I like the concept of a journal/place helping these kids move on from their tragedies, and allowing them that little bit of extra time we all wished we had before something tragic happens. Wonderful review Kristy, I’m adding this book to the TBR.
    Joy @ Thoughts By J recently posted…Book Review: The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1) by Holly Black & Cassandra ClareMy Profile

    • Kristy says:

      You are right Joy, it is such a pretty cover! But besides that, it is very unique!
      Thank you for your kind words :) I hope you enjoy Belzhar as much as I did!

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