Thursday 2 October 2014

Book Review - Belzhar

Author: Meg Wolitzer
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy | Young Adult
Release Date: 9th October 2014
Publishers: Simon and Schuster
No. Pages: 352
Source: Review Copy - Simon and Schuster
Buy From: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Waterstones
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.

I confess that when I requested Belzhar I knew nothing about the book. I didn't have a clue what the book was about, I wasn't even that interested in the book, but when I saw it was available for UK readers, and saw that lots of other bloggers were getting really excited about it's release, I thought why not. In fact, up until the actual day I read Belzhar, I still wasn't sure if I would read it or not, but something in me, somewhere, encouraged me, and I swear, whatever that something was, I cannot thank it enough. Belzhar opened my eyes to so much pain, to so much love and to so much about myself, that I feel ashamed to think I almost didn't read it.

Belzhar, in my opinion I think, will rely on the readers experiences in life, what they've gone through themselves and how it has affected them in order to create emotions and understanding throughout. For me personally, I found my own experiences in life, my own battle with depression and anxiety, with a stressful home environment and so on, to be only beneficial when it came to reading this novel because not only where my issues considered to be something recognised, but they were also recognised as being issues that can affect anything and everything you do. Take, not our main character Jam, but another character, important to Belzhar, Sierra. Her experiences, her lose, her development, not only into the character she is the beginning of the novel, but to the character she is at the end of the novel is immense, it's full of depth, it's full of heartbreak and it's full to the brim with raw love and honesty, emotions I adore to feel when reading a book. I think everyone can relate to going through an issue or a tough time or a bad experience that has shaped them and affected their lives in such a way that they feel that developing a safe haven, a Bell Jar, of sorts, is the answer, and I firmly believe that we all our own Bell Jars, places we can feel comfortable in, relive past experiences in, yet not worry, not think, not even consider how life is continuing without us, but while Belzhar explores this through a fantasy element, the actual concept itself is startling in reality, especially for people like myself, who begin to notice their own Bell Jar.

It sounds as though I've just talked a lot about myself, but for me personally, Belzhar is a novel that made me think of myself an awful lot, not only through the concept, but through the characters too. The range of characters, the difference and definable voices was wonderful, and while the story isn't told in different perspectives, it's hard to not feel and grow attached to them none the less, in fact, I personally, grew more attached to the other characters involved in Belzhar more than I did the main character, but more on that very soon. I adored Mrs Q and her, patience, yet firm grasp of learning with the fellow students, I thought her humour and her clear want and need to help these children was so clear from page one, and I don't think I've grown attached to such an elderly character before. Other characters, Marc and Casey, who's romance was developed quickly, but I quite enjoyed, and their stories were delicate and fragile, yet tragic in their own rights, even Griffin was a nice character and I thought his issues were also quite deep running, but for me, it was always about Sierra. It's common knowledge we all grow attached to a character, and most of the time, it's the main character, but Sierra for me was the most wonderful character and she went through the most heartbreaking of journeys throughout this novel, and I think that's what made me come to love her so much, because believe me, I cried so much during this book, and I can safely say a lot of those areas with concerning Sierra. She made this story for me, and made up for the main character and the big 'reveal' in the final chapter or two.

This is where Belzhar becomes a little murky for me because after so much heartbreak already, I was really expecting Jam's story to be the winner. I expected a broken heart, emotions all over the place and to never be able to read again. I built up a premise so big, so high, that the only option was for it to fall, and sadly it did. I never really grew attached to Jam, and I never really didn't grow attached, she was just a character I experienced things through. She didn't seem to have any firm opinions, or substance, even character in places and this did affect the overall feel of the novel, yet in a way, it helped me experience the other characters stories so much more and better than if she actually had stood out as a character rather than a host. Her personal story too left me a little disappointed because I was expecting to be shocked, yet I almost found myself angry, not only at the direction the novel too, but because for a split second, I felt as though her grief and her anger and her emotions were little in comparison to say Sierra, and I felt absolutely terrible afterwards. I may not have been impressed with the fiction that Woltizer created, but that doesn't mean that if these characters were real, that Jam's issues would be any less worthy of care and attention than Casey's, or Griffins. Both of these issues with Jam affected how high I could rate this novel, yet on the whole, the experience through her eyes was a nice one.

Something I definitely had never expected was to learn more about Sylvia Plath in Belzhar, and not only that, experience and notice the nods and the use of Plath's work, The Bell Jar, in Belzhar. It didn't just bring the characters in this story together, but like so many other rare books, it brought the novel and myself closer than I ever could have dreamed. Belzhar has a clear message throughout, and it's really not a message you can share and give justice, but it's a message that affected me personally, that made me consider Bell Jars and how they affect us, and the dwelling and living either in the past, the present or the future and what they can do to us not only as human beings, but as people and characters. Belzhar is also the only book to date that has given me such a strong urge to find a novel that was mentioned and played such a huge part in the plot, and without Belzhar and the emotional journey it took me on, I would never be considering finding The Bell Jar, yet I don't think I can really live in the future without experiencing that novel first hand, not through the eyes of fictional beings. If Jam wasn't such a difficult character to relate to and learn to like, I may have rated this book higher, but Belzhar, without a doubt, receives the highest rating I can possibly give and a clear recommendation from me any day.

"You're all equipped for the world, for adulthood, in a way that most people aren't," she continues. "So many people don't even know what hits them when they grow up. They feel clobbered over the head the minute the first thing goes wrong and they spend the rest of their lives trying to avoid pain at all costs. But you all know that avoiding pain is impossible. And I think having that knowledge, plus the experiences you've lived through, make you definitely not fragile. They make you brave.


  1. I'm glad this one really meant something to you! I LOVE it when books just feel like they have that extra special touch that we can relate to, right?! I...I confess...I was furious at Jam at the end. I just felt she was so petty when people like Sierra had SUCH a tragic story. Or...omg, I've forgotten her name. The girl who lost her legs. It was all heartbreaking and I could just imagine how devastating it'd be and then Jam. Oh Jam. Grrr. It spoiled the whole book for me. :|

    1. Oh I was just as annoyed as you Cait, I read your review and so understood, but I guess it's that thing of everyone's struggles and depression is different and you can't really judge someone for that, although you can be annoyed, very for sure! Casey you're talking about right? I liked her, she was a wonderful character, but yes, in comparison, Jam was a little, disappointing..

  2. This is such a lovely review - I love it when, like Cait said, books touch us on a really deep and personal level., make us cry. They usually go hand in hand, don't they? I didn't like this book, but it's so lovely to read positive reviews and think about it from a different angle <3

    1. It really did touch me a lot this book, it hit deep within me on a personal level. I need to find The Bell Jar for sure! I do think it's hit and miss and I understand why people didn't like this, so no worries, but I'm glad you liked my review :)

  3. I'm so glad that this one resonated with you well. I've read mixed reviews on this but I have a feeling I will enjoy it after reading even more reviews. Sounds beautiful!

    Lovely review, Amanda <33

    1. There's definitely a mix for sure, but this was a really nice book for me, hit me personally, so good luck Mel! :)

  4. Fantastic review, Amanda! I recently received a copy of this to review, and from what you've mentioned, I definitely think it's one that I'm going to really enjoy.

    1. Thank you Ebony! I really hope you enjoy it, I really loved this one for sure! :)


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